Service of Age

September 27th, 2010

Categories: Age, Work

We first wrote about this subject in “Service Cut Short By The Clock,” where reader and frequent commenter Lucrezia asked: “Is mandatory retirement constitutional?  Is it discriminatory?” She was referring to New York State Chief Justice Judith Kaye who was being forced to retire at 70 according to New York State law.

In light of recent news, I’ve been thinking of this subject and JBS’s comment to “Service of Compassion in Medical Care” inspired me to move on it now. JBS wrote about her internist who listens to his patients. “And what sympathy I got when I was pushed out of my job at 64, and the stories I heard from him then and since about how terrible this is to do to older people whose minds are working well and were putting in a full day (or more) of work. It’s obvious I’m not the only patient he knows that this has happened to. I’ll bet many of your readers can relate.”

Simultaneously, workers in France are going on strike because they don’t want the official retirement age to move from 60 to 62. In this country, according to Social Security online, “Full retirement age (also called ‘normal retirement age’) had been 65 for many years. However, beginning with people born in 1938 or later, that age gradually increases until it reaches 67 for people born after 1959.”

We all know countless productive people at all sorts of older ages but a few of the most prominent ones in the news begin with Sidney Harmon, 92, who recently bought Newsweek.

Democrat Congressman Charlie Rangel won a New York City primary the other week and most of the talk involved his running–and winning–in spite of ethics charges against him. I didn’t hear anyone note that the man being 80 years old was any kind of deterrent.

Octogenarian Warren Buffett is no slouch. When he speaks or invests millions listen or follow.

Along with being interviewed frequently for his political opinions which made me think of him, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, born in 1924 according to Wikipedia, regularly reviews movies and contributes columns to the Huffington Post.

Do these people represent a sea change or trickle in the public’s mindset about older people and their potential productivity? Is it any easier for older people to get jobs and clients these days? What people over 80 can you name who still work and/or continue to be productive? As long as your health holds up, how long do you want to work?

6 Responses to “Service of Age”

  1. JBS Said:

    Not everyone is healthy enough to work as long as they wish, but the other issue is getting a job.

    I could get a job as retail clerk at a drug store or something similar, but at 65, after being one of many pushed out by a local company, I tried hard to set up a PR business, (just as the economy was tanking I know), and I was totally unsuccessful, in spite of the fact that I had about 30 years of experience and had won awards both as a newspaper reporter and a PR manager.

    But boy did the charities come running offering me lots of opportunity to do “free” PR, writing plans, counseling and putting together press packets. My opinion is that at least in the Twin Cities, especially now when lots of people have been unemployed for two years, I will never work again. By now, five years later, I’ve given up.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I don’t know how old you are, and don’t tell us, but from what you’ve written, you are not 25.

    That said, you sent a comment minutes after I hit “GO” on the blog post. Reflexes and writing ability=100.

    However, I don’t think your age is the problem–as you point out, it’s tough out there in communications with zillions of out of work reporters and writers moving into PR and so many industries limping along in a range of canes and crutches. With budgets cut, who needs PR? [So what if nobody knows what products you are introducing. Let ’em guess.]

    Meanwhile: Patience JBS!

  3. Catherine C Said:

    Last week I went to retrospective exhibition of the artwork of Will Barnet, who will celebrate his 100th birthday next year. Barnet is still creating, and I would be very happy to put his latest output on my walls!

    Merce Cunningham worked until his death, at the age of 90.

    There have always been people who remain extraordinarily productive into the upper decades of life. Is there a sea change in the attitude of society toward older people remaining productive? There is going to have to be. Longer life expectencies and demographic reality mean that companies are going to have to tap into mature workers long past traditional retirement age or face a shortage of skilled workers in many areas. And we aging boomers need to recognize that our health and well-being (mental and financial) will require us to remain productive. That’s the sea change.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Catherine C,

    Whenever there is sea change or major gear shifts, people are caught by the waves and in the gears and I hope it isn’t the boomers who, as you put it so well, are required to remain productive which is a good thing, as long as they have opportunities to work.

    After we shipped so many jobs overseas, it left many in a garden of sandpaper–rough and infertile ground on which to earn a living. Interesting times for sure.

  5. Simon Carr Said:

    This is a huge subject with few happy answers. I’m ambivalent on what we should do to bring justice to both the young and the old, the third world poor and the first world dying middle class, and as Jeanne suggests, the issues do overlap.

    To quote Jacques Barzun, who started writing his “From Dawn to Decadence,” possibly the most profound historical survey of Western Civilization ever written, when he was 84 and finished it in his late 90s, “Old age is like learning a new profession. And not one of your own choosing.”

    It is easy to say that noone should be forced to retire, but I remember when I was a young manager working for a stumbling organization and my generation in the company fervently wishing for senior management to be given “early retirement” en masse. It was, and we and the company benefitted. But how did all those 50 to 60 year olds who had worked hard for decades feel about becoming prematurely unemployed?

    I don’t have any answers as to what to do about this obviously monumental problem, that is: the growing mass of unemployed elderly but fit skilled workers in this country with nothing to do. But, I do know that the one thing not to do is let the government make the rules and engineer the behavior of the “new” old. (I even resent, but nonetheless take advantage of, paying half fare on the subway.) Each of us, as Barzun suggests and did, must find our own way, even if it is unpleasant, out of the mess.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I think it is an even more serious situation than you relate so eloquently–and I adore the Barzun quote “Old age is like learning a new profession. And not one of your own choosing.” Brilliant.

    As Catherine C pointed out, and you alluded to by mentioning the declining middle class, work for some is a pleasure and a way of staying active and involved but with increasing numbers, it is a necessity as for whatever reasons–they were deactivated from the workforce before they’d planned to be, their savings were gobbled by investments based on trust with companies with cheating management that robbed them, rising taxes—they have no choice. They need the money.

    The government must be involved as long as we have Social Security. It may be a dartboard decision, but benefits start at some age which is determined by bureaucrats, politicians, special interest groups or all.

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