The idea of a secure retirement, or a decent existence when a person is no longer able to work was a basic human right Franklin D. Roosevelt advocated in his Second Bill of Rights during his State of the Union Address in 1944. Roosevelt’s argument was that “political rights” guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were “inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness,” particularly after toiling to build America over a lifetime of labor; labor that enriched the privileged few who never had to face poverty when their bodies could no longer work. Republicans have spent the past seventy years attempting to force Americans to work until they drop dead and their efforts are bearing fruit according to “The Oxford Handbook of Retirement 2013.” Coupled with low wages, and their stated intent to eliminate Americans’ Social Security and pensions, Republicans, the Koch brothers, and Wall Street will be successful in guaranteeing an entire generation will never enjoy FDR’s basic “right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment” borne of work-worn bodies.
It is becoming a common concern amongst blue-collar baby boomers, the 78-million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, that they will have to “do like my father did; I’ll work ’til I die.” The Oxford Handbook of Retirement 2013 cited such concerns due to a trend among companies to provide jobs with less than paltry pensions, or none at all, that most companies have implemented over the past decade. It is a sad fact that many Americans of the baby boomer generation expect to work until they die because they had little cash put away for old age and are concerned that Social Security will not cover basic sustenance. At best, many of them hope they can move into jobs that are less physically demanding, but even that is becoming a hopeless fantasy.
Most of those in blue-collar professions were incapable of saving for their old age because wages have stagnated and not kept pace with the cost of living. Public sector workers at one time depended on their pensions to keep them out of poverty after they retire, but between Congress raiding their pensions, states cutting them to fund tax cuts for corporations, and the State Policy Network’s campaign to eliminate state pensions across America, the likelihood of public employees working until their last breath is prospect they should expect.
The man responsible for editing the Retirement Handbook, co-director of the Human Resource Research Center at the University of Florida, said “it’s a misconception that lower-wage workers are slackers in preparing for retirement.” Mo Wang said the biggest issue for blue-collar workers is they “don’t have adequate earnings. It’s not because they don’t want to save. It’s because they just can’t.” Wang also said it is wrong to assume that people with lower incomes have more financial concerns than people with higher incomes. He says “it is that the ratio of life earnings to wealth, how much money a person earns in a life span, compared to how much of it he or she gets to keep that is the major factor in a person’s ability to save for their retirement.” Obviously, a lifetime of low income barely covering living expenses prohibits workers from putting anything away for their retirement. It is why the past decade of declining middle class incomes and low-wages for the working poor guarantees an ever-increasing number of Americans have no hope of ever retiring.
People who’ve worked low-wage jobs for decades now admit they never envisioned an affordable retirement, much less retiring, even if that goal is decades away. A typical low-wage worker told of never earning more than $16,000 a year, even supplementing her income working weekends at a convenience store. She lamented that, “I haven’t given up on living. It’s just certain things I want to do I know I won’t do them. Traditional retirement, I won’t have that.” Sadly, most Americans may as well get used to the idea that “traditional retirement” means having to work until they drop dead just to survive. Between poverty wages Republicans love, and Wall Street, ALEC, and the Kochs pushing to slash Social Security, even with Social Security retirees will have to work to enhance their chances of surviving on a miserable pension.
It is a travesty the baby boomer generation who toiled a lifetime to build this country into an exceptional nation and enriched the people whose idea of work is plotting their next assault on labor, will spend their old age working until they die. It is the result of Republicans assailing pensions, keeping wages low, and corporations padding their bottom line by withholding retirement benefits who are still not finished assaulting labor. In every state in the Union Republicans are either raiding employee pensions to give corporations and the rich tax cuts, or to pay for Republican economic malfeasance that ravaged state budgets sending many into bankruptcy. Republicans have already stated their target in the debt ceiling crisis is cutting Social Security, and last year during the August hiatus Boehner said he looked forward to slashing discretionary spending on “entitlements like Social Security” that he admitted was a decades-long goal of Republicans.
Americans have been economically besieged by Republicans for the past thirty years through their trickle down economic assault to transfer the nation’s wealth to the richest 1% of income earners. They have taken Americans’ tax dollars and handed them to the rich, kept wages low to enrich corporations, and they will hardly stop until they hand Wall Street Americans’ Social Security and public worker pensions. Now that they have most Americans working for poverty wages, Republicans will turn their full attention to those nearing retirement age because their concept of economic security in old age is forcing Americans to work until they drop dead which is already a reality for 78 million blue collar baby boomers.