Sunday, August 7, 2011

Put the Oldsters to Work

In 2000 10% of Americans were older than 65. By 2030 the percentage of oldsters will have doubled to 20%. How's that for a quick lesson in demography?

Yet today we act like it was fifty years ago. Early retirement is in vogue. In fact, most social security recipients begin receiving payments at age 62, the earliest possible age of eligibility. So even though we're living longer, we're working fewer years prior to taking social security benefits. That creates both a problem and an opportunity. The problem, of course, is financial, but we can solve that by looking closely at the opportunity.

Although more people are retiring early today, more than ever these same recipients are continuing to work in addition to receiving social security benefits. This developing situation is discussed in Why Hasn't Employment of the Elderly Fallen?. Many are undoubtedly working because they need the additional money, and others may simply want the personal satisfaction from working and staying productive.

Whatever the case, we have a big opportunity as a nation. Simply put, there are lots of very good financial and other reasons to tap into this "new and growing" valuable resource base of oldsters.

The physical type of work performed by the typical American worker has changed dramatically since the inception of social security in 1935. We no longer are primarily an agricultural nation. And we don't have the difficult industrial atmosphere of heavy manual labor either. Today instead we have millions of jobs in air conditioned offices. And we have millions of taxpayer supported government jobs, too.

And we're also in need of reducing the public payrolls and strengthening our educational system while reducing payroll there as well. Programs like VISTA (volunteers in service to America) and the Peace Corps were established in the 1960s. Today we have Teach for America and similar efforts. They all emphasize engaging our youth in helping to make our society and world a better place.

It's time to engage the oldsters by asking them to help our nation by rendering patriotic service in their elderly years. Perhaps those now out of the work force could give five or ten years to government administration such as driver licensing, teaching, social security administration, city or county clerkships or similar administrative activities.

If the older person chose not to do so, which certainly would be his right, perhaps he would willingly forfeit some or all of his social security or medicare benefits. And if he did opt to work, he would not be paid until the benefit he was already receiving had been fully earned. Of course, those not able or sufficiently skilled to do the work would be excused from the oldsters program of earning our keep and making America a better place at the same time.

In part, these oldsters would displace current public employees, so the current public employees could seek employment in the private sector. Any such displaced public sector employees would be eligible for unemployment benefits until they could find work in the private sector.

In addition, much needed value added work could occur due to engaging the oldsters. This Is Your Brain on Summer discusses the effects of summer vacations on students and how they lose knowledge during the school break. This is particularly germane to the poor urban youth in elementary school, and the consequences are lasting. Thus, rather than lose that knowledge summer after summer, vouchers could be used to pay oldsters to help students gain speed instead of falling behind in the summer months.

There are countless other potential benefits for oldsters, youngsters, society and our financial dilemma today from such an effort. Social security, medicare, medicaid, public employment and education, to mention several, all would benefit from an oldsters program. Of course, teachers unions may not like this, and public sector unions such as the SEIU won't like it either.

So who would like it? Taxpayers would. So would students. And my guess is that many, many oldsters would as well.

Someday we'll have to do stuff like this, so why not begin sooner rather than later?

Thanks. Bob.

1 comment:

  1. Oldster working? You first Bob! I would rather turn down SS than work. Not sure about medicare though. This is a good and noble idea. Problem is that people vote favorably on whatever helps them directly and negatively on things that are unfavorable to them.

    Why not cut social security and medicare benefits then oldsters can decide whether to work or not? How about stepping up Clinton's workfare. Maybe people on unemployment can be paid a little more and given low skill government jobs since these jobs/people would hopefully turnover for better paying jobs?