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June 14, 2005

Geriatric marathoners are the new welfare queens

John Tierney rails against the sloth of America's elderly

Men in their 70's raced on bikes for 40 kilometers in this month's National Senior Games in Pittsburgh. A 68-year-old woman threw the discus 85 feet, and a 69-year-old man hurled the javelin nearly half the length of a football field.

Is it possible that people this age are still physically capable of putting in a full day's work at the office?

I realize I'm being impolitic. In the Social Security debate, the notion of raising the retirement age is the elephant in the room, as Robin Toner and David Rosenbaum reported in The Times on Sunday. Both liberal and conservative economists favor the change, but politicians are terrified to even mention it to voters.

Americans now feel entitled to spend nearly a third of their adult lives in retirement. Their jobs are less physically demanding than their parents' were, but they're retiring younger and typically start collecting Social Security by age 62. Most could keep working - fewer than 10 percent of people 65 to 75 are in poor health - but, like Bartleby the Scrivener, they prefer not to.

They don't just feel entitled, they are entitled. Why are they entitled? Because Social Security belongs to Americans and the vast majority of Americans don't want to raise the retirement age. Besides, if Americans are living longer healthier lives, they deserve to enjoy that longevity dividend. These workers built the prosperous society that produced these gains. It would be the height of ingratitude to force them to spend many of their "extra" years working. I'm sure Tierney realizes that workers with high-paying prestigious jobs are already more likely to keep working. He just doesn't care that whatever money might be raised by increasing the retirement age would be at the expense of the least fortunate workers. There's no Social Security crisis, and even if there were, raising the retirement age would be one of the least fair and least popular ways to address it. Tierney and his cronies should stop trying to foist their countermajoritarian guilt trip on the rest of us.

Hat tip to Jesse


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I'm sure Mr. Tierney will have no trouble making sure 65yos currently employed as construction workers, grocery clerks, etc. are able to find nice jobs as writers when they are unable to continue their current jobs.

Well Tierney only knows upper-class old people, and he utterly lacks imagination, so you can't ask him to even think about, much less sympathize with old people who have spent a lifetime in crappy, hard, demeaning jobs, who look forward to retirement as a relief from the daily grind.

And besides, Tierney and his friends might have to give up some of their Bush tax breaks, and therefore be unable to buy that third vacation home, or that second yacht. Which would be an awful tragedy.

Not to mention that not everybody ages that gracefully. It may be true that on average people stay heathier longer, but sadly there are still a lot of people whose health and stamina are pretty much shot by the time they're 60.

I'm sure Tierney realizes that workers with high-paying prestigious jobs are already more likely to keep working.
Are there any stats on this? I know in my company, anyone who works a day past his or her 55th birthday is considered insane. The only people I know doing this are the super-celebrity CEOs and the people with no retirement savings. If you're working at McDonalds, are you retiring at 62? Besides the enjoyment factor, why would you assume people in high-paying jobs are the ones most likely to work past 62?

Part of the justification for the retirement age (and the 40 hour work week) was to get people out of the workforce and make room for others to get jobs.

Last year the congress and bosh administration got rid of the 40 hour work week by helping to repeal overtime for a great number of workers. So why not take the next step and help get rid of retirement as well?

How many young people can throw a discus that far? Not many. Suggesting that talented athletes are typical of all elderly is dishonest.

John Tierney,

Have you ever spent ONE day digging a 6' deep slit trench to access a sewer line?

Have you ever spent ONE day humping drywall up three flights of stairs?

Have you ever spent ONE day breaking up steel reinforced concrete?

I have and I am sure as hell glad I am not doing it now, much less twenty years from now. John you couldn't these things now, just how in the hell do you think you would be able to do them when you are 67 years old?

John, like many journalists, you are lacking in empathy for your fellow citizens who have made your life too comfortable, too isolated from the realities you pretend to report on.

The cover of this week's Nation features William Grieder talking about people both living longer and retiring younger...and how this is a good thing and (Greider being an economism wonk) how we can afford it.

Older people who buck the trend and keep fit are a good example to everybody. Sure healthcare costs a lot, but the main problem isn't affording it but avoiding 20 years of increasing ill health and disability from ailments like diabetes and heart disease and their complications if we can. That's the real human value is giving people longer lives that they're also healthy enough to enjoy; and it's something healthcare doesn't really address. (I'm still for national healthcare and think everyone who needs it should have it, but I encounter tons of people who are fatalistic about their health for no good reason, and think there's nothing they can do to increase their chances of being healthy in their old age).

Personally I think a crash in the value of the dollar would make all this stuff moot and I hope like hell it doesn't happen.

There are many unfortunates who see that the measure of life is in its suffering. Tierney seems to be one of these lost souls. He is to be pitied because he can only see life as drudgery.

I'm willing to bet plenty of those people who start collecting Social Security at 62 are doing so because they have been forced into early retirement. Raising the retirement age will not have any impact as long corporations continue to downsize experience workers. Tierney drops these columns with all the concern of a dog at a fire hydrant.

The best option of course is to lift the cap and make the wealthy who benefit the most from our system give more back than those who benefit least.

I called his first graf Reaganesque: government by anecdote. So one old guy runs a triathalon; make 'em all work till they drop.

Amen, Lisa Williams. I read that same article and I'd like to second what you said and also bring up one thing that Grieder talks about that you ommitted: Retired people aren't just sitting around sucking on the public teat. My grandfather has helped judge science fair projects, record books on tape for the blind, and build museum exhibits. This is stuff we as a society are glad to have done but don't want to pay for. So my grandpa's doing it as a retired person. Somehow I suspect Tierney doesn't really think much about who volunteers twice a week at the VA.

And when you can't keep on working, why, let's put your sorry old cascass out on the ice floe. Or under some beltway by-pass.


Soylent Green is PEOPLE!

Arvin... you stole my line!:-)

Only the rich can afford to be that healthy at 65.

I didn't read Tierney's piece- and I wonder if he factored in the Bigger Bite that came unto FICA during the Reagan years (ie my checks in 1980 pulled 5.85% out for SS- but by the end of the gipper's terms it was about twice that much).
"Amen!" to Lisa W, Amanda, and Mavis B!
Re "Only the rich can afford to be that healthy at 65.."- oh, come on, Kitty- you, too, can Boycott Healthcare. Break a sweat 3 or 4 times a week, quit smoking (even if you're NOT in Public Housing), take your water-soluble vitamins when you go to bed (instead of pissing them away with your morning Caffeine kidney cleanse), and find a farmer's market with good fruit and vegies- and buy them. Get a $5. bike and find a place to breathe while riding. Live to be 100 (or at least to see if dubya's funeral can hold a candle to his old man's...) ^..^

Herbie, darling...I know many people who've died doing just that...

PS -- I do all that myself, I don't need to be lectured about how to live. Regardless, the body is still a machine, and parts wear down, and if you get sick or have a congenital illness that shows up later in life, and you don't have health insurance, you're screwed. So good luck to you in your quest to live to be 100 w/out the medicinal arts.

I'm with mudkitty. There's only so much you can do for your health by taking good care of your body. Genes, social/economic factors and (let's not forget!) luck all play a role. I'm all for encouraging people to live in ways that are more conducive to good health (in fact, I make my living trying to help people take better care of themselves), but the idea that we have that level of control is an illusion -- and I am really sick of the self-righteousness of the healthy.

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