Stop telling older workers to retire. Age shouldn’t matter. You need them.


Ten seconds of staring in silence. It seemed longer.

For the second time in just over a month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) froze mid-sentence during a news conference.

In the most recent incident, Wednesday in Kentucky, a reporter had asked the 81-year-old McConnell about his plans to run for reelection in 2026.

“Oh, that’s, uhh —” McConnell began to answer.

Then he just froze, looking straight ahead at no one in particular.

An aide joined him at the podium, asking whether he had heard the question.

“Yup,” McConnell seemed to mumble.

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“I’m sorry, y’all, we’re going to need a minute,” the aide said.

It took 20 more seconds before McConnell could reengage. He went on to give brief but coherent answers to two more questions.

Though McConnell’s office attributed the frozen moments to his being “momentarily lightheaded,” it didn’t take long before #Retire was trending on Twitter, now rebranded X.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to freeze at an event for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 30. (Video: AP)

Similar calls have been made about Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), 90, who was briefly hospitalized in early August after a fall. A week and a half earlier, she appeared to get confused during a committee vote.

McConnell ‘medically clear’ to do job, says attending physician to Congress

Three-quarters of Americans think President Biden, 80, is too old to serve another term, according to a recent Associated Press-NORC poll.

Having medical issues, small lapses in memory or even falling isn’t evidence of incompetence. Do we call for younger adults to retire when they falter on the job or face a health crisis?

I’ve had my own silent moments of confusion. I walk into a room sometimes and stare for several seconds before I can remember what I was going to do.

On occasion, when calling out to one of my adult daughters, I mistakenly mix up their names. My youngest gets the most annoyed at my slip-ups.

“What? You know your name,” I respond with equal annoyance.

Despite my momentary lapses, I can do my job. I function just fine.

There can be a lot of challenges to getting older, but age discrimination is illegal for a reason. Competence issues can affect any worker. If someone is unable to do their job, that’s one thing. But leave age out of it.

My husband just retired. I’m scared to death of running out of money.

A 2018 report from the Urban Institute and ProPublica concluded that “employment becomes increasingly precarious as workers age.”

Slightly more than half of full-time, full-year U.S. workers 51 to 54 with a long-term employer were forced out of jobs involuntarily and faced long-term unemployment or a severe drop in earnings, the report found.

“The steady earnings that many people count on in their 50s and 60s to build their retirement savings and ensure some financial security in later life can vanish, upending retirement expectations and creating economic hardship,” according to the Urban Institute report, titled “How Secure Is Employment at Older Ages?” “The problem will likely intensify in coming years as more older people conclude they must work longer to maintain their preretirement living standards into old age.”

Senior care is crushingly expensive. Boomers aren’t ready.

The labor participation rates of older groups age 55 and up have been trending higher for the past two decades and are projected to continue doing so, according to an analysis by Bureau of Labor Statistics. This trajectory is partly due to incentives for people to delay claiming Social Security and the decline of employer-provided pensions.

Nearly 40 percent of people 65 to 69 are expected to be in the labor force by 2030, compared with 24.5 percent in 2000. By 2030, the BLS projects, 11.7 percent of the workforce will be people at least 75, more than twice the 5.3 percent recorded 30 years earlier.

The longer folks can work, the better their chances to save and invest for retirement and delay collecting Social Security. If you claim Social Security early at 62 rather than waiting until your full retirement age — 66 or 67 depending on the year of your birth — there’s a 30 percent permanent reduction in your monthly benefit. Every year you delay beyond your full retirement age up to 70, you get an 8 percent increase in your benefit.

My husband retired at the end of June. It was earlier than he had wanted. Although I don’t have plans to quit working anytime soon, I hadn’t expected the flood of feelings that followed his leaving the workforce, including my fear of spending down our retirement savings.

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I shared my anxieties in a recent column. I knew others felt the same.

“I’m terrified about retiring and possibly running out of money,” one commenter wrote. “My folks are [retired] and they saved a lot but living longer and needing more medical assistance has tapped out their savings. I continue to work because I want to provide for them as long as I can. For anyone who thinks this fear is silly … grow up! Healthcare in retirement is very expensive and Medicare does NOT cover long-term care.”

Another reader shared this: “My parents were both professionals with solid retirement plans … pensions, solid insurance plans and low-to-no debt mindsets. Then came a debilitating stroke for my mom and dementia for my dad. Medical expenses and skilled nursing facilities averaging $14,000 to $25,000 a month wiped out their assets.”

If you want more personal finance advice that’s timeless, order your copy of Michelle Singletary’s Money Milestones.

These are the concerns that haunt older employees and are reason enough for many to continue working.

It’s also why speculating whether it’s time for someone to retire because of their age alone should be as off limits as asking a woman with a protruding belly whether she’s pregnant.

B.O.M. — The best of Michelle Singletary on personal finance

If you have a personal finance question for Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary, please call 1-855-ASK-POST (1-855-275-7678).

Recession-proof your life: The tsunami of economic news is leading consumers, investors and would-be homeowners alike to ask whether a recession is inevitable. Regardless of the answer, there are practical steps you can take to help shield yourself from a worst-case scenario.

Credit card debt: Carrying credit card debt is never good and you should ditch the habit. Here are seven ways to lower your credit card debt in light of the Fed continuing to raise interest rates.

Money moves for life: For a more sweeping overview of Michelle’s timeless money advice, see Michelle Singletary’s Money Milestones. The interactive package offers guidance for every life stage, whether you’re just starting out in your career to living an abundant life in retirement.

Test Yourself: Do you know where you stand financially? Take our quiz and read advice from Michelle.


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2023-09-01 14:00:00

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