20 years of prophetic words In 2019 our retirement system is broken and much of our aging workforce faces unsustainable futures:
- In 1980, half of private sector workers had defined benefit pensions; today less than 15% do
- 50% of workers 50-64 have less than $14,000 in savings to last a 20-30 year retirement
- Social Security paid in 2017 an average $1,372 a month (1,196 for women vs. 1,503 for men) – half the income of 50 percent of seniors and 90 percent of their total income for about 1 in 4
Starting nearly twenty years ago, a legion of academics, then dozens of advocacy groups, and now daily pieces in the business and popular media have highlighted the perils of the unprecedented Boomer-driven “silver tsunami.” Millions need to work longer yet are forced or retire into 100-year lives with way too little money to afford them. Employers are recognizing that after decades of dismissing aging workers at will, suddenly it is workers over 55 who will be the new hires of the next five years or more.
Amid this torrent of talk, text and sudden awareness, who is taking bold action to help tens of millions of aging workers achieve sustainable futures? Who stands between them and premature termination, inferior jobs in the Gig Economy or dependence on a flimsy social safety net?
Respectful Exits does. We are a national employee and employer collaboration committed to practical steps that will change the experience of aging workers and transform the path to sustainable retirement. While individual hopes for careers and retirement vary widely, old habits and assumptions no longer hold. A recent Society for Human Resource Management survey showed the strong desire of aging workers to work more years and more flexibly:
Our immediate focus It has taken three decades for short-sighted employers and a passive Congress to shred the traditional three-legged stool of pensions, savings and supplemental Social Security. People cannot be denied ongoing development, discharged in their 50s or early 60s and expected to survive for 30 years or more on under-funded retirements. We bring employers and employees together around four courses of action.
(1) Employer Longevity Agenda We applaud the recent Business Roundtable updating of its “Purpose of the Corporation” statement. Its 180 CEO signatories called for replacement of an obsessive commitment to shareholder return with the recognition that a healthy economy demands that attention be paid to all stakeholders – employees, communities, customers and shareholders.
Perhaps the most deserving of this group are the aging workers whose long-term service and loyalty have helped build the wealthiest corporations the world has ever known. The five practical, proven, and achievable changes in employer policy and practice embodied in our Longevity Agenda can be adopted quickly by our business partners. They would eliminate arbitrary retirement ages, provide significant ongoing training and financial counseling, strengthen a range of pension options and assure career-long flexibility including robust phased retirement options.
(2) ThePhazer™ for Employees Many aging workers cannot wait for long-term policy change and program implementation to secure better futures. Respectful Exits developed this comprehensive online tool, based on programs perfected in pioneering companies, to provide templates and guides to support any employee through the process of proposing extended work and flexible and phased retirement. It is available for free now and offers a practical path to a solution that pundits have been calling for without effect since the early 2000s.
(3) Publicizing GAO report on Phased Retirement In 2017 the Senate Select Committee on Aging commissioned two major research projects on the practice, potential and value of phased retirement programs in both the US and select advanced economies. These rich reviews of opportunities, challenges and best practices make a strong case for their broader use by U.S. employers. We are working to make them more widely known in a range of forums.
(4) Strengthening Social Security Enduring changes in longstanding employer habits and practices will take many years. In the meantime, and in particular in this heated political period, it is crucial to make sure that the one vital piece of the social safety net for aging workers and retirees is maintained and ideally, strengthened. It is easy for this issue, like many matters affecting older Americans, to get lost in the chronic and daily crises that compete for our attention. We intend to keep it in the public conversation and mind.
Building a strong collaboration of tens of thousands of aging workers and hundreds of age-inclusive employers can make these changes, and make them soon. Taken together, these concrete actions can have an immediate impact on our broken work-and-retirement system. Please sign up and Join us in this pressing campaign.