Whistle while you work, you’re going to be at it for a long time

    Wherever you turn these days, the word “retirement” appears everywhere; in conversations, headlines, websites, bank mailings and even billboards.
    The level of annoyance and discourse depends entirely on your age and your plans.

    But what’s certain is that age sixty is no longer a defining benchmarch says WHYY’s Chris Satullo in his weekly audio column Center Square.

    Listen: [audio: satullo20091018.mp3]

    The billboard I glimpsed along I-95 the other day pushed a now-typical message of anxiety.

    “I was closer to retirement at 40 than I am at 50.”

    What did the ad suggest doing about that? Talk to an investment company that calls itself “Chuck.”

    Well, Chuck, here’s my impertinent question:

    Who decreed that the point of life is to retire while you still have 20 perfectly useful years left in you?

    The message has been flogged for decades by companies that want to sell you investments. Many Americans seem to have bought in. If they can’t stop working at leas by age 62, they feel like they’ve failed – or been cheated.

    Is it just me, or this a really stupid life goal?

    Sure, I wish my 401 (K) were more robust. But I refuse to be dismayed by the growing evidence that I’ll need to work well into my 60s. Fact is, I’ve always planned to, the Good Lord willing.

    I flatly reject the notion that retiring in your late 50s or early 60s equals winning at the game of life.

    That goal is the vestige of a bygone era when life expectancies were 10 years shorter, and a majority of Americans earned their daily bread by doing punishing manual labor.

    Now, most of us earn our keep in cubicles, at jobs where experience and, yes, wisdom provide added value. And the evidence is plentiful: The longer we do meaningful work, the healthier, happier and less burdensome to our children we will be.

    And the better we’ll serve the nation. Frankly, society nudged the Greatest Generation to join the land of sansabelt pants, mid-morning tee times and early-bird buffets. Why? Because the huge baby boom was clamoring for jobs. But now the demographics have reversed. Boomers are hitting “retirement age” at a time when subsidizing their leisure will crush the federal budget.

    So make Uncle Sam smile. He needs you to keep working.

    Here’s what I say to that billboard:

    Thrift is a fine virtue, but this retirement obsession turns it into something perverse. Why should I forego enriching life experiences now, when I’m healthy and surrounded by those I love, on the off chance that I might be able to do them when I’m 80?

    To a guy whose dad died at 53, that sounds like a really, really bad bet.

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