The Pandemic Deepens the Silver Tsunami

We launched our active collaboration of aging workers and age-inclusive employers in 2016 to fix America’s broken system of work and retirement. For decades, and at lower and lower ages, millions of workers from tech to manufacturing to the service economy are being aged out well before traditional retirement age into decades of unsustainable “retirements.” Even as people live longer and want and need to extend their careers, many employers shrink these opportunities. 

As the 60 million-member Boomer cohort approached traditional retirement age, alarms went off far and wide about the ”Silver Tsunami” that would engulf an ill-prepared society. A massive pool of older workers would be left to survive without serious pensions or savings; dependent on flimsy 401Ks and the always- at-risk Social Security benefits; and looking for spotty part-time work in the gig economy. The statistics are stunning:

  • 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

The dysfunctional retirement system grew out of an outdated design of work and careers. Fixing retirement depends on transforming the ways we work in the preceding decades. At the heart of this challenge is a legacy and ongoing practice of age discrimination.

The core of our campaign has been and will be the policy and practice changes embodied in the Longevity Agenda:

  • End the 65 “sell-by” date for formal and informal retirement;  
  • Normalize flexible scheduling, including phased retirement 
  • Practice equal, career-long development of all staff 
  • Strengthen all forms of pensions and Social Security; and 
  • Provide annual quality financial counseling to all employees 

This year, as we organized the effort against this powerful tidal wave of old habits and short-sighted practices, the coronavirus appeared as an historic disruptor. In a matter of weeks it led to a shut-down of the economy, the unemployment of tens of millions – and an unprecedented peril and opportunity for change.

History tells us that age discrimination, long a reality for the U.S. workforce, only gets worse during times of economic hardship. Repeatedly, older workers have been among the “first fired and last re-hired” in downturns of all sorts. So in addition to the harm regularly dealt to our aging workforce, the Pandemic is likely to intensify the age discrimination already embodied in the Tsunami we had been anticipating for years. As the massive firing/re-hiring process unfolds in the year or years ahead, we need to pursue our long-term agenda and at the same time support the aging workers who face a very real danger of disproportionately suffering the consequences of habitual and harmful employment practices growing out of this emergency. We must fight the pandemic and tsunami at the same time.

For the balance of the year our campaign will do the following and we call on you to join us:

  • Monitor Age Discrimination   We have created tools on social media to encourage employees and employers to document ways in which layoffs and re-hiring reflect inappropriate use of age as a criterion for such decisions. We will regularly report out and highlight best practices as well as those that deepen the challenges for aging workers. 
  • Eliminate formal and informal retirement ages    The impact of the pandemic will only intensify the need for aging workers to work longer. Employers must end all formal or informal retirement dates. 
  • Facilitate Vital Financial Counseling   The isolation and financial havoc of the pandemic increases the need for financial guidance for employees. . Employers should immediately provide quality, ongoing financial wellness counseling  on a no-fee basis.
  • Strengthen Social Security   We encourage all employees and employers to sign the Social Security Pledge on our website to protect this one remaining element of the retiree safety net. 

Join our campaign and tell your story at www.RespectfulExits.org.

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