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Retiring by choice, not by age

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Marvin A. Tort

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Retiring by choice, not by age

I am a journalist, and have been for my entire professional life. There is no such thing as “retirement” for this particular work, especially for freelancers. If you can still think, and write, and go out there and produce stories or articles or columns, and media outfits are still willing to pay you for your output, then you can continue to work. An option, of course, is to self-publish or self-broadcast, usually electronically, by doing your own blog or site or podcast.

For the Philippine military and police services, the mandatory retirement age is 56. I believe that even at 60, soldiers can still do their work. In fact, the US Army has just raised the retirement age from active service from 55 to 62, and the age limit for enlistment from 34 to 39. Over there, retirement pay requires at least 20 years of active service. So, if one enlists in the US military at 38, he or she can opt to retire at 58.

For Philippine government employees, they have to go at 60, which I believe should already be adjusted to 63-65. European civil servants have been retiring at 66 since 2014. Moreover, for Philippine government appointees and elected officials, there is no mandatory retirement age. There are no mandatory retirement ages for presidents, vice-presidents, senators, congressmen, and Cabinet members, or appointed heads of agencies.

Why then should we have different rules for different Filipino public workers? Can we not use a single standard, or at least adjust up from present limits? Over at the Philippine Supreme Court, and for all judges, mandatory retirement age is 70. If we believe that members of our judiciary can still function productively and effectively until 70, and our legislators even past that, can we not expect the same for others in our government bureaucracy?

In fact, at the US Supreme Court, and all other US federal courts, there is no mandatory retirement age. Justices can stay on for as long as they can. Thus, many actually die in office. But of those who decide to retire voluntarily, available online data indicate an average age of 78. In this sense, can we not raise to at least 75 our own judiciary’s retirement age?

There are risks to this, however. It may be true that there is less likelihood for a sitting president — with a term limit of six to eight years — to stack a 15-member Supreme Court with his “appointees” if justices can stay in office for life. On the other hand, there should be more stringent requirement for appointments. After all, as the saying goes, a lifetime is too short for a good justice, but too long for a bad one.

For most Philippine private sector workers, retirement is mandatory also at 60. But some “retirees” are taken on as “consultants” under one-year contracts up until the age of 65. However, I truly believe that there should still be a work life for people older than 65. And, I am not talking about Jollibee crew work, or cashiering in a neighborhood store. Skilled work, or professional work, should remain an option.

My barber for the last 31 years, is now 72 years old. His fellow barber is 74, I think. Despite their ages, both still ride motorcycles to and from work. Both are still good at what they do, and I believe have enough spunk in them to last maybe another five years, at least. Eyeglasses are now required, but their hands are still steady. And, from what I see, they don’t seem to be sickly.

I have met engineers, architects, lawyers, communication professionals, corporate executives, and journalists who are way past the age of 70 who are still actively working. One journalist-friend, in his 70s, still actively plays competitive tennis. Another acquaintance, a lawyer also in his 70s, still does continuous laps in the swimming pool for at least one hour, thrice a week. One former central bank governor, now 79, I still see going to the gym regularly.

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I have seen professionals in their 70s and 80s still able and capable of work. Lucky for those who own or run their own businesses, or practice their professions as individuals, as they are not constrained by mandatory retirement ages. But at the same time, we can also see a proliferation of “new seniors” seemingly lost and without direction, looking for something useful and productive to do. At age 60, they have been retired by their companies, even if they can still work.

Senior people, as with many of their contemporaries, have occasional aches and pains. They spend money on maintenance medicine. They require periodic visits to the doctor and perhaps frequent trips to the toilet. They move slower, and at times require the aid of a cane. Some require naps midday. But, overall, they remain sharp and intellectually agile, and very capable of important work.

I am making my case for raising the retirement age, both in the public and private sectors, and removing mandatory retirement ages for some positions. With advances in science and medical technology, people are now living longer — and can still be productive long after the ages of 60-65. I believe 70 is a nice number. These seniors still possess relevant work experience and expertise that remain useful if not necessary in the workplace.

Older people deserve more than menial jobs, or jobs that younger people don’t want. In visits to places like Singapore and Japan, I cannot believe the number of older people — who look like they are in their 60s-70s — doing janitorial work, cleaning toilets, or bussing tables in food courts and restaurants. But, while I frown on how some aging societies treat their old and poor people, at least their seniors are still given the chance to work and earn a living.

Many countries are now moving to raise the retirement age, for one reason or the other. In Australia the retirement age is to be increased gradually from 65 to 67 by July 2023. In Belgium, the retirement age is to be increased gradually to 67 by 2030. In France, the minimal retirement age has gradually increased from 60 to 62, and the full retirement age is to be increased gradually from 65 to 67 by 2023.

In Germany, the retirement age is to be increased gradually to 67 by 2029. In Denmark, the retirement age will be increased gradually to 67 by 2022. And from 2030 onwards, it will be increased a maximum of one year every five years, depending on increases in average lifespan. In Ireland, Taiwan, and Japan, the retirement age is to be increased gradually to 68 years.

And in the United States, retirees are eligible to receive reduced Social Security payments by 62, while people 65 and over are eligible to receive some free Medicare benefits if they paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years. The full retirement age is to be increased gradually by 2023 and will be 67 for everyone born in 1960 or later.

Raising the retirement age can ease the pressure on public and private pension systems, as well as the pressure on the public welfare system. More important, in my opinion, is that it can also improve independence and self-reliance as well as combat loneliness among the elderly, and boost the morale and the sense of self-worth particularly of people who have been made to feel old and without use, and a burden to their family. These people still have plenty to contribute to society, and they should be given that chance.

 

Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of Businessworld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council

matort@yahoo.com