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Posts Tagged ‘retirement’

Ageing is a natural process. People age as soon as they are conceived. And society, so far, has been able to find a place for each phase of the ageing process: the nursery for the child, the school for the teenager, the working place for the mature person, and the bench in the sun for the older person. The division so far has been neat: child 0-12, teenager 13-19, mature 19-65, older person 66-infinite. And here is the problem: when +65 was more or less a homogeneous group, the last division worked reasonably well. But when the over 65 group keeps expanding its upper limit to higher and higher numbers, say 90 or even 100, who can even think that the 67 and the 95 year old have the same interests and needs?

Society has been able to smooth the transition from teenager to adulthood by providing a system for the teenager to start getting involved in adult activities, be it summer jobs or working grants.

But so far society has been unable to provide such a transition from adulthood to over 65. You reach retirement age and you are finished. No more getting up at 7am, no more chatting with colleagues, no more feeling productive. And all that in 24 hours.

Would it be so difficult to develop a system that allows phasing out retirement according to a person’s needs and expectations?

There are two main drawbacks, in society’s opinion, against keeping older people at work. From the employer’s point of view, older people have accumulated so many perks that they are more expensive than younger ones. There is also a pre-conceived idea about older people and their lower productivity. Productivity is the sum of speed and the lack of errors. By that definition, there is no evidence that an older person is less productive than a younger one. This pre-conceived idea about the lower productivity of older people is being revised (see The Economist: Special Report, “The Economics of longevity“).

The solution to these problems lies with the Regulator. Sensible and flexible labor regulation could easily overcome those drawbacks. What is needed is more political will to design solutions and less dramatization of the supposedly insurmountable problem that ageing is bringing to our society. Let´s get trade unions, business organizations and government to do their job and work together towards making the transition from adulthood to retirement smooth.

Enough is enough! I am not going to feel guilty for being over 65 and planning to live as long as possible and enjoying every minute of it!

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I am reading a lot about ageing in the work place. It is such a hot issue that they have come out with a name for those people: “goldenworkers”. It seems like no matter how you look at it, society needs older people to be more productive. From a demographic perspective, the ageing of the population implies that a bigger number of older people will be living alone.  From the economic point of view, the working population will have to support a continuously growing number of retired pensioners, at the same time as non-communicable diseases are on the rise as the population becomes older; both issues straining the national budgets. As for the labour market, we will be faced with the paradox of a short supply of skilled workers, as these retire, coupled with unemployment among those entering the labour market without the necessary qualifications. And finally, but by no means less important, there is a lack of appropriate flexibility in the legal labour framework. Could the situation be bleaker?

Fortunately, so-called reforms are taking place in Europe prompted by the economic crisis. However, is it really a reform when something is based solely on forcing later retirement together with a smaller pension scheme? I dare say it is a less sanguine boutade than the one from the Japanese Minister recommending that older people die quickly, but a boutade nevertheless.

For my instruction I am reading a 40-year-old book by E. F. Schumacher, “Small Is Beautiful”.  At the very beginning of the book (page 9) it states that “people [should] have a chance to enjoy themselves while they are working, instead of working solely for their pay packet.” That, I believe, would be the basis for a real labour reform but is that what we are aiming for?

If we were, our policy makers would be interested in people’s well being and not only in balancing the budget come hell or high water. If well-being were their objective, they would focus on reforming the labour market so that “enjoyment” could be included in every worker´s life. Is this a naive objective? I don´t think so. Policy makers should pay more attention to promoting more flexible working conditions, thus making the working environment more enjoyable. By flexibility I mean promoting part-time jobs, tele-working, flexible retirement age, re-training, etc. In short, putting people at the centre of the labour reform.

I don´t consider those changes farfetched and impossible to carry out. They are not revolutionary but rather structural changes. They would mean that working conditions could be adapted to fit the needs of the worker and the employer. This would make work more enjoyable, distancing it from the admonition that “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Genesis 3:19). The objective of policies directed at supporting occupation for everybody in general, and older adults in particular, should be the promotion of a more pleasant working environment. Only then will people be willing to remain socially productive as long as their health allows.

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A simple look at the press in Europe shows how governments have come to the realization that there is a quick and easy solution to the problem of ageing in our societies:  extend the retirement age.

This solution has distinct advantages.  First of all, it is quick; the government will delay the moment in which one will become dependent on the public purse.  Secondly, citizens will be putting their Euros into the public purse for longer.  Of course, the related problem of the expense necessary to take care of a larger older population is only partially solved by the increase in revenues.

I am not arguing against the simplicity of the scheme.  I only wonder how long it will be before the retirement age is again extended.  Would it not be more sensible to establish an automatic system that makes retirement dependent on, for example, life expectancy?  At least we would avoid the inevitable counter-round of public outcry aimed at blocking the inevitable extension.

But maybe we should focus more on the fact that, as long as Europe’s fertility rate falls short of the replacement rate, the problem will keep cropping up, and this is the real problem.  Of course, populist politicians and the far right will block the obvious and quick solution of letting immigration work and allowing into our markets the much needed and capable hands of people from – in the case of Europe – basically Africa.

But even if the fertility rate reaches the level of the replacement rate, there will be in Europe more older people who live longer.  That means a mounting pressure on the health and social budget.  Have our authorities done anything serious to improve the process by which we take care of that population?  It is apparent to me that we continue to provide socio-health care in the same way as we did a century ago.  True, there are more than enough pilot projects attempting to find alternatives that permit ageing well and in one’s own surroundings.  But has eHealth or, more appropriately, eSocioHealth permeated our daily lives?  No, I am afraid not.

I am convinced that only a real change in the process of taking care of older people, using the technologies that are today in our hands, will permanently dissipate the tension in the budget created by the very welcome increase of our life expectancy.

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