The right not to retire

Remember the concern expressed several years ago during the congressional debate on whether to extend the mandatory retirement age in the US from 65 to 70 ? Well, Congress did extend the retirement age to 70. Now comes a new study by the US Labor Department showing what a lot of older workers said would happen all along; namely, that retaining a worker past 65 causes no major disruptions for businesses or loss of jobs for younger workers.

In fact the study, released this week by Rep. Claude Pepper, chairman of the House Aging Committee, offers some interesting conclusions about the importance of older workers to society in general. The higher retirement age is expected to result in some 212,000 more workers aged 60 to 70 remaining in the labor force by the year 2000. For a labor pool that will have fewer workers than ever to support federal social security recipients, those older workers will be an important asset to younger workers bearing the social security payroll tax.

Since most workers tend to retire by their mid-60s anyway, despite the retirement age change, there is a legitimate question as to whether keeping the existing mandatory retirement age makes much sense. According to the Labor Department study, abolishing mandatory retirement at any age would likely keep another 195,000 workers on the job by the end of the century. When one considers that means an additional 195,000 "services" or "transactions" for society as a whole -- as opposed to the less accurate concept of "jobs" -- scrapping a mandatory retirement age makes even more sense.

What, when one gets right down to it, is the justification for retiring someone who wants to continue working when there is no apparent economic justification -- such as job loss for others -- for doing so? Congressman Pepper, now in his 80s, is just one example of the successful "older worker." And Ronald Reagan, it might be noted, came to the presidency well beyond what is considered normal retirement age. The measure of one's job performance should always be just that -- performance rather than age. The new Labor Department study should be read by every personnel manager in industry -- and every lawmaker as well. The time to rethink the whole issue of mandatory retirement is now.

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