Wednesday, October 06, 2010
[IWS] NIOSH: THE GOLD WATCH DECISION [with LINKS to recent studies] [6 October 2010]
IWS Documented News Service
Institute for Workplace Studies----------------- Professor Samuel B. Bacharach
School of Industrial & Labor Relations-------- Director, Institute for Workplace Studies
16 East 34th Street, 4th floor---------------------- Stuart Basefsky
New York, NY 10016 -------------------------------Director, IWS News Bureau
National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH)
From the Director’s Desk
John Howard, M.D.
October eNews 2010
The Gold Watch Decision [with LINKS to recent studies]
Once, the decision was easy for most of us. In many cases it was encouraged. At some time between age 62 and age 66, often at 65 with Medicare eligibility, we retired from the workaday life. We retired with Social Security benefits, a healthy pension, and some form of employer-paid health insurance. The passage was marked by a retirement party, a handshake from the boss, and a gold watch for our years of service. The question was not whether we would retire by age 66, but when.
Today, for most working men and women, the decision of when to accept that gold watch is more complicated and more difficult. For many, indeed, the question is not when to retire, but whether traditional retirement is feasible at all. Census Bureau data show an upward trend over the past 20 years in the percentage of men and women who remain in the workforce over the age of 65. For example, in 2008, 72 percent of employed men age 65 to 69 were working full-time, compared with 57 percent in 1995 and 56 percent in 1990, an astonishing difference http://aging.senate.gov/crs/pension34.pdf
As contributing factors, economists cite a decline in traditional pension plans, a drop in the percentage of employers that offer retiree health benefits, and the impact of the economic upheaval on individuals’ and families’ financial security. Retiring on a nest egg and a fixed income becomes increasingly less desirable when the nest egg is cracked, retirement benefits are calculated in large part on Social Security, and the prospect of medical bills looms.
Two recent publications highlight concerns about aging, staying on the job vs. retirement, and physical and mental capacity. These concerns bear attention. The issues they raise are ones that we in occupational safety and health are increasingly pressed to address as more and more workers born between 1946 and 1964, the Baby Boom era, approach traditional retirement age.
In an August report, the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that employment in physically demanding jobs or in jobs with difficult working conditions is a major cause of early exit from the labor market among older workers. This trend has particular implications as policymakers eye the prospect of raising the age for full Social Security benefits beyond 66 as a way of keeping the program more solvent.
"Raising the retirement age is particularly concerning for near-retirement age workers with [physically demanding] jobs," the Center said. "Despite the fact that the retirement age increase is supposed to encourage workers to work longer, many workers would be physically unable to extend work lives in their jobs, and they would most likely be left with no choice but to receive reduced benefits http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/patterns-in-physically-demanding-labor-among-older-workers
Of 18.8 million workers age 58 and older, nearly 35 percent, or about 6.5 million, were in physically demanding jobs in 2009, about 5 percent of which required high physical demand, the Center reported. The Center’s definition of a physically demanding job or one with difficult working conditions includes occupations that we would immediately think of in terms of manually handling heavy loads or staying in near-constant motion, such as construction laborers, freight handlers, and housekeepers. It also encompasses some that might not come to mind as quickly, such as teachers, retail clerks, and food service managers.
In the Center’s analysis, a large proportion of physically demanding jobs are concentrated among low-wage, less educated workers. For this demographic, the prospect is particularly bleak: retiring on severely limited means; trying to find another less physically stressful occupation in competition with younger, better prepared workers; or remaining in the current job with its risks of stress, strain, exhaustion, and injury.
Interestingly, even for those who are financially comfortable, other recent research suggests that retirement may not always be "blest retirement," in the words of the English author Oliver Goldsmith. In a study published in the Winter 2010 Journal of Economic Perspectives, researchers found a significant association between early retirement and a decline in cognitive ability among people in their early 60s http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.24.1.119
These data may reflect the adage of "use it or lost it," providing statistical evidence for the idea that when one is not mentally or intellectually stimulated, his or her cognitive abilities begin to decline, the authors hypothesize. This is the other side of the coin in the issue of work and aging: Some older workers may prefer remaining in the job market over retiring. They enjoy the mental or physical challenge. Their coworkers are their social network. They are equal to at least the minimal demands of the job. They fear that retirement will be lonely and dull: a slow mental death.
These issues of work and aging demand our attention as occupational safety and health professionals. The need is clear: to help match the design and performance of work in the second decade of the 21st Century with the needs and capabilities of all workers-with careful attention to conditions that can become increasingly stressful and dangerous as the worker ages. This involves keeping work safe and healthy for workers who already qualify for senior citizen discounts. It also involves ongoing analysis and action to facilitate healthy aging at work and to promote a sustainable U.S. workforce: reducing occupational risk factors that impose wear and tear on the body over time and using the workplace as a forum to promote personal health.
NIOSH and its partners are committed to the research and information dissemination that are critical for realizing those goals. Last year, with the Society of Occupational and Environmental Health and other stakeholders, we cosponsored a national workshop to examine critical needs regarding healthy aging and a sustainable workforce and reported findings and recommendations http://www.soeh.org/pdf/AgingWorkersWorkshopReport_11%2009_Final.pdf
In our WorkLife program, now in its seventh year, we work with diverse partners to plan, conduct, and evaluate research for sustaining and improving worker health through better work-based programs, policies, and practices http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/worklife/
I am proud that we have contributed to national and global efforts to enable a safe, healthy, and sustainable workforce, including the development of recommendations on essential elements of healthy workplace programs http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/worklife/essentials.html
As we continue our efforts, I invite you to read and use the resources described above. We hope you will join us in helping to make the gold watch decision a voluntary, happy, and fulfilling one for every worker.
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