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Work and jobs -- where is the Studs Terkel of today?
Will the next mid-life crisis be at 75? Sixty is the new sixty, says Marc Freedman. Attending a recent event, I was an audience member exhorted to consider the ever-greater expansion of time available to make sure that it is time well-lived. What does that mean in the context of life’s purpose, whether we are prepared to competently approach our very long retirement years with not-enough-saved or will we have an encore career or two? He quoted the comment of an older adult about their potentially very long future: "I’m on my next-to-last dog." Working part time – is that a next-to-last career? Volunteering – is that a career? In one session I heard the word 'work' used for effort that is "paid or unpaid." How mangled is our language that volunteering without pay is now called working?
Working for pay – where does that fit? When I was young, I was overwhelmed by Studs Terkel’s masterpiece called 'Working.' I just couldn’t get those pink-collared workers out of my mind. Working – it’s what you do. My father, who hated his job but went there every single day, still communicated this message about life and what you do throughout that life -- you work. I’ve been thinking about the world of work lately – and how it seems to be disappearing in direct and unfortunate juxtaposition to our lengthening lives.
What’s happened to work? The labor participation rate – a nonsensical and politically charged number, is, nonetheless, clearly dwindling. Put aside all of the economic and pundit theory, this is simple and non-political: people cannot keep or find jobs -- and that’s a problem that worsens with age. Yet many writers blame baby boomers’ retirement as a reason to explain this dwindling workforce! This presumption must change, and perhaps it is already changing -- some labor participation rate statistics are now tracking participation rates of younger cohorts, so that the quality of the real job market, exclusive of those possible baby boomer retirees, can be detected. And many seniors are still working.
This chicken-and-egg argument is pointless. People apply for Social Security at 62 because they can’t keep or find full-time jobs that pay the bills. It certainly isn’t, as implied by the USA today author, because they have stashed away huge sums or are following an endless silly media babble of so-called investment advice. Like those CBO predictions about the impact of health insurance on jobs (another one of those 'there will be fewer' future projections), people don’t quit good jobs that pay their bills unless they must. Even if they don’t like their job, it is, nonetheless, a job -- they are not volunteering. People are not actively searching for new ways to earn smaller paychecks. With longer life expectancies, baby boomers must pay or help pay for rent, mortgages, clothing, gas, food and furniture -- in addition to health insurance costs and medical bills. Closing the gap between needs, earning paychecks and thus paying for the fulfillment of human needs is called working. Fans of Studs Terkel may view the diminishment and distortions of language about work as another modern tragedy.