Saturday, July 15, 2023

Why We Still Work

In the face of our unpreparedness for retirement, many of us simply don't.

Sometimes, we continue to work because we love our work.  We continue to be able to contribute even though our bodies may ache and complain, and our minds have trouble remembering exactly why we came downstairs.  What were we getting again?    

We love the mental stimulation of labor, and we know our field, and we still have something to contribute.  There's pleasure in a job well done, and we want to enjoy that pleasure as long as we can.

But mostly, lately, Americans continue to work because we have to work.  The option of stopping our season of labor and taking sabbath at the end of a life's work simply doesn't exist, because if we took it, we would starve.  Increasingly, we're forced to continue heaving that rock up the hill, whether we take joy in it or not.

Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the number of seniors remaining in the workforce will increase by nearly 100% in the next decade, as we both age and find ourselves continuing to need a regular source of income.  Though many folks retired early during the pandemic, more and more retirees are coming out of retirement, continuing to work well into old age, like Harrison Ford coming back one last time for Indiana Jones and the Greeter of Walmart.

We've got debt for medical expenses, debt for our homes, debt for our cars, debt for our children's education, and sometimes lingering debt from our own education.  St. Peter may be calling, but we can't go, 'cause we owe our souls to the company store.

Given the wild fluctuations in our "free market" economy, there's also impetus to keep our toe in the water and some skin in the game.  Retire at the wrong time, and you can find the assets that you'd assumed would be sufficient suddenly...aren't.   As we're living longer, and retiring at sixty five or sixty seven means twenty more years of life, we're likely to see some economic catastrophe or another at least once during those two decades.

I mean, seriously, we're relying on Wall Street to provide a stable, consistent, unpanicky income for our dotage?  Wall Street?  How often over our lifetimes has there been an economic crisis?  Pretty much every decade, some industry or another overheats and collapses, and all of the financial gurus go into a tizzy.  Housing loans.  Student loans.  Dot coms.  Asian Tiger markets.  Algorithm-driven selloffs.  Pandemics.  You name it, the Invisible Hand of the market is great at dropping the ball, like the world's least competent Pee Wee League wide receiver.  It's an ephemeral edifice fabricated from groupthink, avarice, and wet tissue paper, and it comes apart at the slightest whiff of crisis.

In America, it's always the wrong time to retire.  Always.

We know this because we can see it, and so we don't retire.