Boy, you feel good today. Full of pep. Up at five. Took the dog out for a good long walk, actually enjoyed a bit of a run, and were hardly winded. Had a nice big breakfast when you came home, two cups of coffee, caffeine still hardly bothers you. Had a cup after dinner last night and still slept like a log. And here you are, five hours into the day, work piled up to the ceiling, but it’s all good, it’s money coming in, and these days, who’s going to complain about that? Maybe you can keep the business running another few years. You think? Dad’d be proud, see the company he and Uncle Al founded still on its legs, sixty years later, even if some days it feels like it’s just limping along. Besides, you’ll stay late tonight, an hour or two, clean it all up. No sweat. Not bad for someone’s turning seventy-two next month and’s been at this since age fifteen, coming in after school to learn the business from the ground up. Hell, screw staying late. You’ll knock off at five, hurry home, the two of you’ll go out to dinner, go to a movie. Come in a little early tomorrow and finish it all up. Another few years? Nah. You feel you can do this till you’re a hundred and five.
You get up for a stretch, wander out onto the floor to get a cup of coffee, give people the eye, remind them you’re here, still the boss. Not that they need the reminding. Good people. Hard workers. You hardly have to say a word to some of them. Work their asses off for half the money, which, you know, you’d like to pay them. Business is good, as in ok, but it’s not like you’re making the bucks so fast you can’t find space to put it all, it’s piling up so fast. Help if you could lower the overhead a little. Actually, though, what would help is if you could afford to hire a couple more people. You got reps here doing the work of two. Lots of orders falling through the cracks.
Well, three, in the case of those picking up the slack for Sid.
Sid. Look at him. Geezus. Five years younger than you and looks like he could be your father. Ok. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But he’s not looking too good these days, is he? Too bad. He used to be such a dynamo. Worked like a hero. Put in seven days a week if you’d let him. Best you had. Then he turned sixty-five and it was like he hit a wall. Bam. Just knocked him flat and he’s never been able to get up again, not really. Mostly, for the past year, he comes in, goes through the motions. He’s become a real drag on the business. He really should hang it up. But what’s he gonna do? You always paid him a fair chunk of change. Never was going to make him rich, but he got by pretty well. But 2007, 2008. Everybody’s 401k took a big hit, then his wife got sick, and their house went under water. He’s going to need to collect full benefits on his Social Security. He needs to stick it out for one more year.
Oh wait. It’s 2020 now, isn’t it? They raised the retirement age for people Sid’s age back in 2011. He can’t collect full benefits until he’s 69. So he’s going to stick around for three more years!
Think about it. His wife’s health is shaky. Sid’s is none too good himself’s. No way he can make up for the difference in medical costs for what the vouchers won’t cover. Sid needs to work here till he drops just for the medical plan, which is no great shakes, it costs you both an arm and a leg, but it’s not like it’s suddenly got cheaper to go the doctor’s. Even a simple check-up dings you, never mind if you need something big taken care of.
No, Sid’s here for life, unless…
Nah, you couldn’t do that to Sid. Not after all the years he’s put in.
You could do it to Mary.
In a heartbeat.
Well, not really. Just some days you’d like to. She’s just not pulling her weight. She’s another one, old age caught up with her real fast. And that car accident last year, she’s still hurting from that. You can see it whenever she has to stand up, which no wonder she avoids doing. She’s got everybody else fetching and carrying for her. The time last month you called her into the office to talk about it, she starts crying, thinking you were going to fire her, because she knows, and it embarrasses the hell out of her, she hates what’s happened to her. Like Sid, she used to be one of the hardest workers around here, but it’s not her fault some idiot runs a stop light, t-bones her like that, not her fault she’s not thirty years old anymore. She’s crying on you, telling you like you don’t know how she needs this job, how her husband never found real work again after he was laid off by his company during the Recession for the crime of being in his fifties and why wasn’t that considered age discrimination, she wants to know, as if you were responsible and of course your conscience bothers you because you’re thinking how much you’d save by dumping a few people around here who aren’t exactly young anymore, like Mary…
Oh, and then she brings her daughter into it. Kelly, She’s just moved back in with them, because she hasn’t been able to find a good job in her field and she’s been out of school what? Couple of years now, and those student loans were killing her.
Kelly, you think. You’ve met her. Good kid. Lot like her mother used to be. Hard to believe she can’t find a job. You’d hire her. You’d be thrilled to have a young version of Mary around the place again, working up a storm, leaving everybody else to eat her dust. And you could pay her…
Forget it. What are you going to do, fire Mary and as she’s on her way out, cardboard box full of her personal stuff in her hands, trinkets and toys and photos and souvenirs and awards she’s piled up over thirty years, ask her to send her daughter in for an interview?
But she’s only sixty-three. She might be here for another six years. Hell, like Sid, she’s going to stick around till she drops, you let her.
And you’ll let her, right?
But it sure would be nice to able hire a Kelly. Two Kellys, if Sid leaves. Two? Make that three.
Think of that. For what you’re paying two worn-out, demoralized geezers who’d just as soon not be here and who are, not to be too harsh on them, mostly collecting paychecks to hold down their chairs in case there’s a sudden gravity shortage and they might fly up to the ceiling, you could hire three energetic kids, desperate for work, who’ll give you a hundred per cent for maybe twenty years, bringing in all kinds of business, maybe enough they’ll pay for themselves, and you’d still be saving a bundle. Forty or fifty grand a year. Think what you could do with that. Buy a couple of new trucks. Expand the warehouse. Give Sherry and Brian the raises they haven’t had in three years. You know Brian and his partner have been looking for a new house they can afford. Sherry’s nursing her car along, hoping it’ll carry her another hundred thousand miles…
This is getting depressing. You pour your coffee, take another look around, this time trying to avoid laying eyes on either Sid or Mary, sparing yourself and them both, and what do you see?
When did everybody get so old?
Half the people who work here, they’re gray or bald already. How’d that happen?
Demographics. They’re all Boomers and Gen-Xers you hired during the Clinton years when it seemed like the good times were going to last forever. Twenty-five years later of course they’re getting up there. But for Chrissakes, in another few years it’s going to be a geriatric ward in here. Sid you can afford to keep around another three years. Mary? That’s a tough one. But some of these others, they’re going to want to stay for twenty more years and who knows which and how many of them are going to turn into other Sids and Marys?
And it’ll be worse out in the warehouse. Bad backs, bad knees. How many guys already literally can’t carry their own weight?
Maybe it’s time you did a little housecleaning?
You wander back into your office, sit down at the desk, call up the payroll records on the computer, and you start making a list…
Inspired by a report from dday via digby that a new plan to “save” Social Security includes cutting benefits by raising the retirement age---that is the age at which new retirees can start collecting full benefits---to 69 for everyone now 58 and younger and by this op-ed in the New York Times by Thomas Goeghegan arguing that what we should be doing is just the opposite, lowering the retirement age and increasing benefits.
In a time when we need to create jobs, plenty of people have been hammering on this idea, that we should be looking for ways to encourage older workers to get out of the workforce to make room for younger workers. Apparently, though, the geniuses down in Washington, have decided that what this country really needs is a whole lot of people working into their seventies or until they drop dead.