Retirement — a new frontier

 

By Bob Grafe
The Gazette-Enterprise
 

Published August 20, 2009

© These days it’s not real easy for senior citizens to distinguish between whether the country is suffering from a “depression” or from a “recession.”

Apparently there was the same confusion during President Harry S. Truman’s term in office. Recognizing the need for clarification, Truman is quoted as stating “It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours!”

Keeping that thought in mind, many senior citizens have chosen recently to postpone retirement choosing to keep their current job — or have been involuntarily “retired.”

Solvent employers usually recognize the benefits of either keeping current senior workers or employing new senior workers. It is no secret that senior workers bring to the employment table their years of experience making them valuable to their employer by being excellent team players — both in terms of the quality of work they are able to provide and by frequently being able to provide necessary mentoring for junior colleagues.

Even during challenging economic times, most employers agree that they value the reliability of seasoned employees and they often admire their work ethic.

All of that said, there seems to be something special about the age 65 for some employees and employers alike. Is it the time when you have acquired sufficient experience to lose one’s job through forced retirement — perhaps because you’re no longer cost effective?

There’s an old saying that “The best time to start thinking about your retirement is before the boss does.”

That old saying seems to ring true during these difficult times when nationwide unemployment rates are nearing the 10 percent level. Adding to the across-the-board employment troubles, there seems to be a very mistaken notion floating about that senior citizens can’t be productive members of their respective workforce once they’ve reached “old age.”

This notion is both false and illegal. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 makes it against federal law to discriminate against job applicants and employees on the basis of age.

The act specifically states that “It shall be unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual’s age.”

To take this act into the real world of today’s employment market place, many lawyers specializing in employment law, recommend that employers should not even ask job applicants for their age out of concern that it may give the impression that the employer is fishing for some age-related reason for not hiring the applicant.

Setting possible age discrimination in employment matters aside, for some senior citizens, the thought of having to find a new job at an advanced age in life is just an agonizing thought process. For others, the thought is invigorating because it gives the senior citizen the opportunity to perhaps work at something that they have always wanted to do — but never had the time or opportunity to do so.

Even with today’s high unemployment rates, many employers are looking for part-time and temporary employees who do not require many employment “benefits” such as vacation pay, sick pay and health insurance coverage. Senior citizens often times can fill an employer’s temporary and/or part-time niche jobs with ease.

The employer receives the benefit of a reliable employee and the senior citizen employee receives the benefit of perhaps a flex-time schedule, extra time off (without pay), and the advantage of perhaps learning about an industry that was of interest to the senior — but, unavailable because of other time commitments.

Some senior citizens may even want to venture into the business ownership arena from perhaps owning and operating a franchise business to a possible work-at-home venture.

Senior citizens who just aren’t in the mood to retire — but who have lost their permanent employment — have an opportunity to earn a little extra money by simply marketing what they have effectively become the expert in during their life’s working experiences.

Perhaps a senior citizen worked in the auto industry for many years and is now out of work. That senior citizen may have a wealth of information from mechanics to marketing that may very well have a market locally or even via the Internet.

The displaced senior citizen who was once employed in the financial industry may be able to refocus that knowledge in ways that would make the senior very valuable to a local retail or service company.

Within our economy, very little actually happens until someone “sells” something. That sale usually contributes to continued activity within all business and industry. A displaced senior citizen worker may be able to effectively re-tool his or her knowledge base of a specific industry into a marketing (sales) technique for a specific product or service.

For the senior citizen facing an unexpected or unwanted forced retirement, the future may look dismal … or delightful … depending on one’s personal outlook.

When or if a senior citizen finds him or herself in this type of life-changing intersection, the senior shouldn’t simply retire “from” something; they should have something to retire “to.”

That may take a little thought and planning.

But, the senior citizen who doesn’t want to participate in full retirement, either willingly or unwillingly, regardless of whether we call this period we’re experiencing a recession or a depression, will benefit from every ounce of effort put into thoughtfully planning for this new phase of their life.

Grafe is a former managing editor of the Seguin Gazette Enterprise and a former chief juvenile probation officer for Guadalupe County.

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