An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick
Butler Yeats’s poem Sailing to Byzantium
well an unlikely colleague coming to my office during my working years – for
convenience, I will call her Monica. She was in tears, clearly distraught, telling
me that she needed to talk about an important family matter. I was taken aback
because while she was a respected co-worker, I had not really connected with
her beyond casual conversation.
out her story, sobbing as she explained the details. Her father, a sixty-nine-year-old
man, had started working packing shelves in a supermarket. He retired the
previous year from a company in Manhattan, but he could not make ends meet on
his monthly social security cheque.
He lived in
an apartment off Pelham Parkway in the Bronx. His wife passed away four years
previously and their three daughters were all working and married in the New
York area. They offered to supplement their father’s income but he wouldn’t
hear of taking money from any of them.
for a successful company for almost forty years and was honored by his bosses
with a few promotions as well as being presented with an Employee-of-the-Year
plaque on two occasions at company
In the late
1980’s there was a major drive for unionization in his company with emotions
running high throughout the workplace. Both sides appealed for his support. The
company brought in a so-called consulting company to organize the opposition.
They found out later that they were paid over a million dollars for their
in retrospect, one of the main issues pushed by the union side centered on the
lack of any pension benefits for the workers. The organizing effort was
narrowly defeated, with her father, the quintessential company man, voting for
the status quo.
retiree, he loves to visit his daughters and grandchildren and still plays golf
on Sundays in the challenging Split Rock public course nearby. However, by the
time he paid for his rent-controlled apartment, covered the costs of running
his Camry and met the usual living expenses, he was dipping into his meagre
savings every month.
carefully to her story realizing that she didn’t really expect me to come up
with any solution. For Monica, watching her father packing supermarket shelves
was heartbreaking for her and humiliating for both of them. Just imagining him wearing
a brown coat filling shelves as people moved past him with their shopping
trolleys clearly affected her and conveyed a strong sense of family failure.
of pension systems varies greatly across the globe. They provide a valuable
monthly cheque drawn from a financial pool with contributions from both
employers and workers.
United States more and more companies in the private sector have switched from
guaranteed traditional pension plans to the somewhat riskier 401(k)s.
Institute Global Pension Index (2020) compares worker pension benefits in 39
countries representing more than two-thirds of the world’s population. They
ascribe a value of between zero and 100 to each country’s system based on three
criteria, adequacy, sustainability and integrity.
Netherlands received the highest score, 82.6, suggesting a high level of
satisfaction among retirees. They utilize a flat-rate public pension topped up
with a payment linked to earnings and negotiated agreements.
in second, registering a score of 81.4. Again, they combine a universal public
pension plan with mandatory payments from occupational schemes.
States, the richest country in the world, came in at number eighteen with an
assessed score of 60.3, just ahead of Malaysia and Columbia and trailing
Ireland (65) and Chile (67).
Ireland, I read that they are in the late stages of introducing new pension
legislation which will provide a major boost for retiree income and living
standards. The scheme, due to start in January 2024, foresees employers and
workers putting 1.5% of the employee’s gross salary into a new account. These
contributions will increase to 3% and then 4.5% before finally settling at 6%
after ten years. The plan covers workers earning between 20,000 and 80,000
euros annually and augurs well for future retirees’ income.
discriminating against people because of their year of birth - is a major
problem in many countries. It is rampant in the business world where even
highly experienced and knowledgeable employees are told, often with hints or
nudges, that they are past their best and should move on.
a recent analysis by the Urban Institute and Pro-Publica more than half of American
workers over 50 lose their jobs before they are ready to retire, and 9 out of
10 of these workers never recover their previous earning power.
study revealed that around 18% of American workers have to continue in a job
after retiring – about three times the comparable percentages in France and
culture often includes inaccurate and prejudicial biases. These are evident in
the unfounded belief that older employees have low energy and they are often
deemed to have outdated technical skills.
most people want a job they can stick with and they are usually highly
motivated to make a meaningful contribution. In contrast, according to a study
by the London Business School, millennials expect to leave their work in less
than three years. So much for maintaining continuity in an enterprise.
Cappelli, director for the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School of
the University of Pennsylvania, rejects all the negative rhetoric used against
senior workers: “on almost every dimension of job performance, research shows
that older workers perform better than younger workers.”
place a big emphasis on negotiating decent pension benefits for their members,
but unfortunately, only about 12% of full-time workers in the United States are
unionized. In 1983 the percentage was over twice that figure.
national poll showed a surprising 70% of Americans support workforce
unionization. Membership is growing in recent times, but the right-wing
propaganda machine, bolstered by many state-level inhibiting regulations, makes
the job of organizers very difficult.
Unions always look out for the retirement
benefits that they rightly argue should accrue to their members. If instead of
12% membership, three times that number carried union cards, that would change
the whole work culture in America and would also enhance the pension
possibilities of those not organized.
father worked in a union shop, he would not have to pack shelves to cover daily
expenses at the end of his days.
OShea blogs at wemustbetalking.com