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Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008

Work It, Old People

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If senior citizens wanted to serve as footrests, or stand in corporate lobbies as experimental artwork, I’d be the first one to put my feet up, admire the view and applaud their work. But the reality is far more insidious, and the time to respect our elders has passed.

Instead of fading into the sunset of a youth-dominated culture, old people are fighting for a new dawn: the chance to put in a full day’s work. To them, it matters not how many park benches sit empty, or the fact that pigeons don’t feed themselves. And whereas industrious seniors used to be for the birds, more and more are taking flight into the working world.



There are already 5 million Q-tips age 65 or older in the U.S. labor force. No need to clean out your ears, you heard that right: 5 million. And that number will soon multiply as baby boomers turn 65 in 2011.



Sixty-five used to represent a magical number, a time for workers to deep-six or take five. But today’s seniors seem intent on putting retirement itself out to pasture. I repeat: Bingo is now a no-go. Instead, the Golden Years refer to the precious, yellow metal seniors want the right to earn—a money grab that reveals their true colors: The blue-hairs dig greenbacks, and any deterrents will have them seeing red.



It’s not all about money, either. In place of rest and relaxation, the elderly are demanding a different R&R: Relevance & Respect. Implausible as that sounds, AARP and other terrorist organizations are raining down upon Washington in an effort to make old people reign supreme. The thought of seniors being treated with dignity, of being shown compassion and understanding, is no doubt filling Depends the nation over. But whether you view their bladders as half-full or half-empty, we must put an end to this stink.



In simpler times, we could simply stick old people on ice floes and let them float off to the end of time. In a way, it was win-win. For those not on the floes, it increased the number of job openings. And for the elderly, the idea of drowning, or even death by polar bear, surely beat life in a nursing home.



Sadly, this opportunity has melted away right before our very eyes, thanks to the one cost of global warming that baby boomer Al Gore won’t tell you about: Take the growing number of older chaps, and the shrinking size of the polar caps, and there just isn’t enough ice to make them go with the floe.



Plus, there’s that pesky 99.9% of the population that thinks it’s “inhumane.” Look, I know it’s hard to begrudge somebody wanting to feel productive and find enjoyment in work, but we can do it if we try. And try we must: If you can’t trust anyone over 30, there’s no telling what you can’t do with someone over 60.



Until 1986, at least one thing you could do was force people to retire at age 70. But thanks to activist judges with a grandmommy-complex, gone are the good ol’ days of dumping an employee who speaks of the good ol’ days. Of course, these rules only exist according to the law. This could be one of those rare moments when it helps that Lady Justice is blind—what she can’t see can’t hurt her. As the clock ticks down on the careers of seniors, it’s time to take the law into our own, unwrinkled hands.



And since we’re already facing a mountain of trouble with older workers, perhaps the answer is placing troublesome older workers inside a mountain. The government has spent nearly 30 years working on a storage site deep inside Nevada’s Yucca Mountain—just for a teensy bit of nuclear waste. With the boomers’ working population set to explode, elderly employees present a far more imminent threat than a little radioactive decay.



Now, before old people make a mountain out of a molehill over this mountain, let’s be clear: If these economic fears prove unwarranted; if the taxes paid by older workers offset or surpass the expected shortfall in Social Security; or if the public simply feels that seniors deserve the right to choose their own paths in life, us younger generations would never suggest sending all old people to live inside a mountain. After all, we’re still going to need a place to rest our feet. And corporate lobbies are looking awfully bare.

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