Seniors: Keeping On Keeping On
Amid the craziest March Madness in decades, the three-year contract extension of Marshall University basketball coach Dan D’Antoni didn’t catch that much attention outside of West Virginia.
But it wasn’t the fact that a coach at a mid-major college is sticking around until 2027 that was so newsworthy. It’s that when the Herd tips off its 2023-24 season, the coach will be 76 years old. Next to D’Antoni, Alabama football coach Nick Saban looks like a mere pup at 71.
Take that, “retire at 55” enthusiasts. Take that, couch potatoes who want to consign senior years to golf courses, cruises, and luxury vacations that contribute little to the betterment of society. Take that, all those who would ignore Moses setting out on the greatest adventure of his life at 80.
Longevity at Work
What was so interesting personally was D’Antoni’s contract extension came on the heels of a recent Insider story about American seniors working into their 80s or even their 90s.
A Washington Post analysis cited in the story showed that 734,000 octogenarians were in the U.S. workforce in 2019, compared to 110,000 in 1980. Even allowing for population increases, that’s still more than four times as many 80-somethings working today as in yesteryear.
And why not? If President Joe Biden can be considering running for a second term at the age of 80, kicking back in one’s mid-50s or mid-60s seems a bit lame.
In fact, with the Social Security trust funds in danger of running dry in the next decade, raising the retirement age would seem to be a wise move.
After all, when Social Security began in 1935 the average person wouldn’t make it to age 65. With life expectancy now nearing 80, one can see that the status quo is headed for a serious clash with actuarial tables.
Too Much Leisure
I’m not saying that all seniors can continue working in their 70s and 80s. I have a couple friends who worked assembly line jobs during their careers. At 62, they couldn’t keep going. Nor can others I know who served in physically demanding and stressful jobs, whether in a hospital operating room or on the police force.
My quibble with the traditional American retirement dream is its emphasis on leisure and checking out of any meaningful activity once you reach the “ideal” age.
The trouble is, too many define that age way too low.
When we lived in Louisville, the Courier-Journal newspaper profiled a woman who had served in state government for 30 years. By all accounts, she had been a reliable, steady presence of influence and reason, a hand that steadied the ship of state.
The trouble was her age: just 54. At the very time when she could have benefited the younger generation coming up behind her, been a valuable mentor, and served as a guide to a state needing her wisdom and experience, she retired.
This woman thus walked away from potentially the best decade of her working life. Sadly, we’ll never know. Tragedy, thy name is early retirement.
Seniors Why Stop?
Mary Johnson, a policy analyst at the Senior Citizens League, had one of the best comments I read in the Insider’s account: “If we enjoy what we do, why stop working? There’s been a big change in thinking about retirement.”
Why indeed? Why should Dan D’Antoni, with his wealth of high school, college, and professional coaching experience, stop sharing it with younger players? Only a fool would consider making him quit.
Agree entirely. I’m pushing 70 and began my small business in copywriting and copyediting full-time in January 2022, when my 9-to-5 contract/employee jobs came to an end. (The income isn’t full-time yet, but it’s getting there.) This is work I’ve always wanted to do full-time, so eight years ago, I began planning toward it, knowing that eventually the day would come when either I couldn’t commute anymore or didn’t want to. The lockdown facilitated that, when I found myself very comfortable and happy working from home for my employer. Now I do it that for myself.
My mother was 96 when she died in late 2020. She was still working, as her town’s news correspondent, until March 2020, her last copy being a report on the annual town meeting that year. She was always actively involved in a multitude of projects, committees, and causes. (You’d be surprised how many civic organizations her small town of 2,000 has.) The social engagement was her lifeblood, and she gave far more than she got. (“a cheerful giver …”) She was an exemplary model for me and my siblings. When the world came to a halt that spring, so did she, and in the following eight months, she withered away to nothingness, in body and spirit. The lockdown eliminated her purpose. She didn’t die from the virus, but because of it.
Some of my favorite people are in their 80s and 90s. They have immeasurable assets to offer, gift-wrapped in wisdom and experience.