There will be no more steps on “Route 66”, at least if Micheál Martin asserts himself with pensions. “This idea of retiring at 66 has to go,” says the Taoiseach.
Such a thought is a dream come true for those contemplating another decade in a job they love or in a company they run. However, it’s a nightmare when they’re already creaking; Arms, neck, knees or hips after 40 years of building, prefab, lugging, cleaning, cutting. Working writers can also fall into the disability category.
The high-ranking politicians who remove the footsteps from Route 66 can retire, not to a premature pension crunch, but to a well-paid boardroom, advice center, or UN or EU outpost. None of them will run to work in their late 60s or 70s – numb on muscle relaxers, stomach cramps on anti-inflammatories – just to have a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Of course, some employees relish the prospect of working well into their 70s or even 80s. Forced retirement at 65 has been a humane killer for too many. Bad golf and good scales saved dignity, sanity, futures and even marriages. But while “we’re all living longer, so we have to work longer” sounds breezy and expansive, the practice is more complicated.
First, and new, there is Long-Covid with its looming implications for the health and future performance of the workforce. Singer Shawn Mendes has just canceled a world tour due to Covid fall-out.
Second, there is the ablism already established in our culture, seen in an increasingly fragile Joe Biden “working through” Covid while GPs are advising infected 20-year-olds to rest.
Third, there is ageism, which is already ravaging careers and incomes. Women who earn peak incomes in their early 40s face additional sexism as they age compared to men in their late 50s. Whether women are changing jobs or getting back into the workforce, managers scream “overqualified” as subtext for, well, old.
I would marvel at the competence and confidence of any manager who would face the gift horse of outstanding expertise for a salary lower than what was previously required, especially when some workers in their 50s are actively trying to downsize as personal circumstances change . often for greater flexibility in studying, retraining in another subject, or for parents or grandchildren.
But for every downshifter there are more – many more – who want to develop according to their expertise, talent and performance.
They are now on the brink of accepting lower and lower paying jobs as a “reward” for living longer just to survive financially. With more workers hiring rather than buying in Ireland, we have to ask ourselves where we’re going to survive.
Don’t get me wrong: change is a constant in life. Only three of my good friends are still working in the field in which they were originally trained: education and medicine. The others have gone through various incarnations and, like me, are still not finished.
But as the years go by, limits come. What hope do many within those bounds have for a well-paying, satisfying job in their 60’s or 70’s when it’s over 50 to be over the hill?
Will the shackled neoliberals, the self-proclaimed eco-capitalists – who wouldn’t know Öko if his name was Umberto – hand them over for a pension and retirement hunger games in which they demonstrate their ability and worthiness for security versus precariousness?
Grandmas with master’s degrees, decades of high-level work, destined to hop around in neighbors’ gardens, ask their grandkids’ friends, “Would you like some fries with that?” while others – mostly men – huddle in their vacation homes in Croatia, Slowly stretching Courtmacsherry or Connemara into safe retirement.
I’m particularly concerned for women of my own generation – 50’s – who have been told they can have it all without realizing that it could mean all the earning, all the mortgages, all the education, all the constant strenuous work.
Those who find themselves alone and rowing for their lives in the treacherous plight of no private pensions, precariousness, foster care or divorce. Meanwhile, the politicians with their pension decisions sail safely, smugly, smiling past them on their way to the constituency council.
Too much of what passes for political thinking is actually more like Frank O’Connor’s boys throwing their caps over the orchard wall and following them.
The real thinking is being done by the likes of unionist Mick Lynch, the RMT and others who recognize that no one is born or dies a worker. They recognize that work is an activity we undertake to earn a decent living, not mega-profits for the few or a classification of our lives.
The climate emergency – in which we produce and use less energy, make and buy less stuff – is leaving the “busy” neoliberals emasculated and confused.
In the retirement and retirement conundrum, workers’ “capital” is a bit like eco-capitalism: oxymoron. Deny workers decent jobs and dignity in old age, timely and well-funded protection, and retirement thereafter? imbecile.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/as-retirement-stretches-over-the-horizon-its-in-danger-of-disappearing-into-the-abyss-41890815.html As retirement stretches across the horizon, it threatens to disappear into the abyss