Senator Elizabeth Warren's Social Security Legislation
The Right to Die

Two Irrational Beliefs About Old People

Every day alarms are raised about the the burdens old people place on society. The growing “silver tsunami” will make life awful for everyone else we are told.

From government to employment to media and more, the conventional wisdom is that "the elderly" are all in poor health, dependent on others and if that's not so yet for any given individual, it soon will be.

Sick old people will swamp the economy, they say. We can't afford Social Security so we must privatize it. There won't be enough caregivers to go around. The sick old people will suck up all the money with nothing left for anyone else. So they shouldn't retire.

There are many important things to know about those generalities. Today - a couple of them.

It is true that more old people have health problems than younger people but that does not translate into disability or helplessness nearly as much or as often as many, even most, believe.

One respected study of tens of thousands of participants age 51 and older published in 2013 found that “For a surprisingly large segment of the older population, chronological age is not a relevant marker for understanding, measuring, or experiencing healthy aging.” More specifically,

”The researchers found that among individuals ages 85 and older, 28 percent had excellent or very good self-reported health and 56 percent reported no health-based limitations in work or housework.”

Further, even among the oldest age group, “nearly one-third have not been diagnosed with any of these five major chronic diseases:”

“The proportion of the population with no clinical diagnosis of any of the five major chronic diseases ranges from 75% of the 51–54-year-old population to 32% of the 85+ group.”

Those statistics do not mean that two-thirds of the 85+ group are incapacitated. Most are living on their own managing their diseases. Many other do well with, for example, a cleaning person once a week or Meals on Wheels deliveries or visits from a home health aide or a neighbor, friend or relative who helps.

If you pay too much attention to what is written and said about old people, it's easy to believe that all of them are incapable of caring for themselves. But you would be wrong.

It is true that people are living much longer than our parents' and grandparents' generations, that we are healthier than the general population believes we are, and that many elders want or need to work longer than traditional retirement age of 65 or 66.

But not many are allowed to. It's called ageism and it's illegal. But employers have all kinds of excuses the law allows them to get away with to fire or not hire people 50 and older.

Alongside the belief that all old people are disabled, is the growing one that elders should be required to work longer than age 65. Yes, I know that's a contradiction, but there it is in the media every day if you pay attention.

I've been reading these opposing points of views for at least a decade and here's what I think about that: No one gets to demand that people work past Social Security retirement age unless they remove the barriers that exist to keep old workers unemployed. Job seekers who are 50 and older must be allowed to find work as easily as they did when they were 25, 35, and 45.

And not just as Walmart greeters. People who insist old people work must allow them to have the kinds of jobs they are good at, that they are experienced in, that inspire them and allow them to be productive. Just as they have all their lives. Just as young people are allowed to expect.

Of course, this applies also to the any elder who wants or needs to work past traditional retirement age (although we also cannot penalize elders who are not capable of working any longer either but that's for another day).

I understand that the United States – and the world – is experiencing a confusing period when traditional jobs are disappearing, the “gig economy” is obviously not working and no one has an answer.

But as people and governments muddle through, people cannot be treated differently in the workplace based solely on age.

And you cannot, in the same breath, insist old people are all disabled, a drag on the economy and then require them to work past retirement age. That is irrational and gets us nowhere.


I wouldn't agree that the gig economy was a dead duck. Solo entrepreneurs are a vibrant part of the start-up ecosystem where I live.

Wow. You hit a nerve on this one...or at least for me. I've been spouting this ageism subject for a long time. And what really burns me up is the serious lack of shining the light on the subject by the mainstream media. And worse, when they address it, it usually focuses on an unusual situation that does not fit what the rest of us are going through. People - especially after 50 - and in larger corporations it starts in the mid-40's - are treated differently. Period. I lived it. I could write a book. For now I am luckier than many - and for that I grateful - but the hypocrisy and BS of it all still makes me fume.

I am one of the oldest who comment here and I just had a complete blood work-up and the results would probably make some young people envious. I was in the normal range in every category. I rarely go to the doctor and other than purchasing a CI processor I have cost Medicare very little.

In fact, I cost my insurance company more when I was young than I do now. I had three serious operations resulting in a long hospitalization for one.

Statistics rarely tell the whole story, but they can be used to manipulate the impression that politicians want to give. The Republicans who want to do away with Social Security and Medicare are expert at doing that.

As usual, what Darlene said. All I have at 78 is a little less energy & I cope with that by planning well & keeping well informed...........well as much as I can. Thank goodness for the internet. Dee :)

I am using my skills, talents, abilities in retirement and doing a very good job at three VOLUNTEER spots. The problem is not with getting work, the problem is getting paid to do the work!

When i retired from teaching, I expected to continue working but found that no one wanted to hire a retired school teacher. Employers said I would be bored. (HA!) I think some thought me too old to understand the technology of the jobs. Or perhaps stuck in buddy-duddy ways. (HA! HA!) There is a perception that older people can't do the work, yet I'm doing very well in all areas but there is no pay for it.

Bravo, Ronnie! This is so well-written.

In terms of health, I've been struck by the focus on the allegedly enormous cost of chronic conditions which many old people take--some of which can be quite well controlled by a very inexpensive prescription medication.

For example, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure decades ago and manage it quite well by taking one pill a day of the prescribed med. The cost for a 90-day supply is less than $1.00.

Agree with all above commenters. Speaking of volunteers, the number of hours we older folk give adds up to a significant impact on services to society and productivity on which all generations are depending. Our local paper is great about featuring articles about volunteers in our community, but we don't hear about it much in mainstream media.

Excellent topic! Am reading a book, Ordinary Medicine by Sharon R. Kaufman and her take on the current medical model is fascinating. She combines all the ways the elderly are manipulated to meet the needs of big Pharma and medical device companies and how we are the "guinea pigs" for these in order to bump new drugs/devices into the "standard practice" area. Sounds a little like I'm going off topic but ageism is a big part of how new, often unproven, treatments, devices, and drugs become standard practices. Most of our doctors aren't even aware how they are being manipulated in order to sell us on these devices/drugs.

So discriminate against us in the work place, force us out of our jobs or any job but require us to work, steal our prepaid SS income, and Medicare, and test out new medical practices on us - and then use the media to tell the world how the elderly are dragging the U.S. Economy down the drain... Politics has never been more dishonest or corrupt - except it probably has.

Go to any caregiver forum and read the horror stories. There are many elders who need continuing care, and there are many ways to botch this process. There aren't enough good solutions for what are often complicated health problems. Yes, there are many of us in good to pretty good health. I am an example of one of those at the age of 69. Two of the several meds I take are quite expensive. One is a non generic blood pressure med, and another is Restasis. These two alone force me into the doughnut hole after only a few months every year. In my personal experience, and according to my experience handling the expenses of my elderly mom, I'd say meds are a huge expense for many of us older adults. And it doesn't do any good to sugarcoat this issue.

On working--I think the the articles written urging elders to work past retirement age are propaganda. All of us have earned the right to retire whenever we are eligible. If you want to work, then by all means do. Of course, you might have a hard time doing so after age 55, or after retirement age. The same economic thinkers who recommend working past retirement age are not the people who make hiring decisions.

I do think that for someone who has SS and/or other benefits, the gig economy might be useful, if that person has a skill she can sell. Having the extra income could be very nice.

Older folks are being treated for more illnesses than young people because older folks tend to go to the doctor more than youngsters. If more younger people went to doctors as much as older people do, they would find out that they have illnesses they never knew existed. The truth is, if you go to the doctor four or five times a year, chances are that on one of those visits he will find something wrong with you and treat you for it.

Until a year ago I was one of the lucky few elders who was still "allowed" to work and get paid for it. Unfortunately, that's no longer the case since the nonprofit where I was employed for nearly 40 years went bankrupt for a variety of reasons. It's been a year of adjustment for me--a tough one at times since I'd been in the workforce since 1958. I'm basically healthy and able to work, but who's going to hire a soon-to-be 79 Y/O? So, I'm "involuntarily" retired except for volunteer work.

I deeply resent the general characterization of older people as incapacitated, dependent, mentally incompetent and a drag on society. Many of us are not and, as other readers have stated, those who do have some degree of incapacity mostly manage on their own or with some outside help. Further, we worked for our Social Security benefits. (One reason that some elders may be drawing out more than they paid in is because pay was LOW during our earlier working years, especially for women.)

I completely agree that it is asinine, illogical, ridiculous and immoral (plus other words entirely unfit for publication) to cut Social Security while simultaneously shoving 55+ workers out the door and slamming it behind them forever. What are older people supposed to do? Die before we turn 65? Reinstitute the poorhouses of yore? The current crop of right wing Repubs are the poster kids for hypocrisy, but they'll be old some day, too.

As you often do, Ronni, you have given your readers a " hot" topic. . . And such a relevant one. The warped thinking of those who want seniors to work, but will not hire them is called " insanity." I wish I were as eloquent as Darlene, Elizabeth Rogers, Sysan, and others. I add my vote to what they said.

You've put your finger on the problem, the Catch-22 of being expected to work longer while simultaneously being judged incapable of "keeping up." No one should be required to work past normal retirement age. But people should be afforded the opportunity to work past normal retirement age, if they want to.

The sooner the suits realize the value of seniors, the better off we will all be.

Juniors and seniors should be working together, forming partnerships, mentoring, learning from each other.

Seniors are not ghosts of their past, but many of us are ready, willing and able to get our hands dirty.

Like Tom, above said, if seniors want to wok post retirement, they should have the right to do so.

I just went for breakfast with my 90 year old friend.

We talked about how seniors volunteer everywhere.

Her husband was a Principal of a school.

We were talking about how the Minister of Education Quebec is planning to cut back teaching aides and resource teachers.

That means students with special needs mainstreamed in regular classrooms will not be getting the help they need.

Students with special needs include those with physical, behavioural, neurological issues.

Imagine a class of 27 students, 10 with special needs, no resource help.

Ted Bundy and Charles Manson once sat in a classroom.

Retired teachers who love teaching could be hired part time as mentors, seminar leaders, coaches, tutors, for students who might otherwise drop out of school.

Prisons are heavily populated with students who dropped out in grade nine.

This is just one example of how seniors could continue working.

But the Quebec kgovernment wants to spend our tax dollars elsewhere, such as lighting up the Jacques Cartier Bridge, for millions of greenbacks.


How did that k get in there?

As usual, I'm going to blame it on the Bossa Nova.

I'm so glad you pointed out this ridiculous contradiction, Ronni! It's no news to anyone with even a small circle of like-aged friends that our "good" jobs tend to fade away for various reasons in our mid-50s. So we set out to get that much-vaunted additional "training" and apply on line for a zillion jobs and get cooler glasses and haircuts and--nada. Nobody will hire us for anything like our old jobs.

Not only do people in this category have eons to go before even the most minimal Social Security, health insurance is still quite expensive and precarious, though better than before the ACA.

Yet, we're told that our "entitlements" will break the country. So we "must" work. Fine. Sometimes, we even want to. But how?

Lately, there has been a spate of articles about people in mid-life dying younger than expected. In all seriousness, how can these deaths be a mystery to our clueless leaders?

doctafill, those retired teachers are expect to VOLUNTEER for the classrooms of which you speak. I know this too well as that's what I've been asked to do. The schools, teachers, administrators, and students love us and the work we do, but there is no money for it.

The sheer volume and the passion of comments on this blog post tell a story. Ronni, so many of us have been mulling over the contradictory and kind of crazy messages we get about aging. Now I don't have to write about them because you are inside my head speaking my thoughts out loud. You're speaking for a whole cohort of reasonable, thoughtful, frustrated, astonished older people. Thank you!

Thank you for this excellent piece. You nailed it.

Please continue to write about Ageism and the related hypocrisy you describe so well.
It's far too important to ignore.

Elizabeth I will be 70, Lord willing, and I was able to secure a job that pays $15 per hour using my computer. Working from home allows me to work in my pj's, bra and panties whatever and I get to pick my own hours - I always build my nap time and my yoga time into my schedule. I simply love it and have been doing this for more than 3years. If you still want to work and can operate a computer I would be more than happy to speak with you. my email address is

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