A new analysis by the financial website Bankrate.com argues that it's the single worst time to retire in a generation. Whether you consider pensions (see also: Detroit), health care costs, 10-year gains in the stock market, bond rates, or annuities, the prospect for a traditional golden-years experience is dim.
The best advice that personal finance experts offer in the face of these bleak trends is to work five or 10 years longer if your health and energy allow, and to draw down your savings more slowly.
But members of Generation Flux have better advice: Love your job so much you'll never want to quit. Our recent post on whether retirement's days are numbered led to an epic conversation in the comments.
Some readers raised questions about the research cited in that post: Is it true that retirement contributes to ill health, or is it just that sick people tend to retire earlier? But the study cited did find that employment had "health benefits" independent of other factors.
Most Fast Company readers, it turns out, just aren't interested in traditional retirement. Period. End of story.
Commenter Casudi summed up the thinking this way:
1) I am very good at what I do
2) I love what I do
3) I can’t afford to maintain my lifestyle if I give up working
4) Making the effort will keep me feeling young and (hopefully) continue to be interesting.
"On a practical level, I’m not sure retirement will ever be financially viable for me. I’m certainly not counting on Social Security, and I don’t anticipate any Lotto wins in the future. But my primary concern isn’t that. It’s that much of what I do, I’d continue to do even if I didn’t need to get paid for it."
As the fine print on every financial prospectus reminds the nervous investor, "past performance is no guarantee of future results." Just because retirement looked a certain way in the past doesn't mean it will be similar for the generations currently dominating the workforce, and that's not necessarily bad news.
People now in their 20s and 30s have spent more time getting educated, growing into their careers, and starting families than any previous generation in American history. Having been told all our lives that we are unique, we went into business for much more than a paycheck, believing in following our bliss and making a broader contribution. We've started businesses and nonprofits of our own in huge numbers. We've also gotten used to juggling gigs, short-term, part-time, freelance, independent and contract work, and in pivoting into entirely new industries, re-skilling when the opportunity presented itself.
Why, then, after spending all that time crafting an idiosyncratic, you might say "artisanal," career, would we turn around and walk away entirely as relatively healthy people in our 60s with no plan and nothing but a little dough in the bank to cushion us against the unknown?
It seems much more likely that the year 2045 will see 65-year-olds pursuing the kind of work we really love at a schedule we can manage, trying new careers we never had a chance to before, and maybe renting out our home and car, or picking up odd jobs at TaskRabbit to make ends meet. For the long haul.
Some may dismiss this kind of "plan" as little more than whistling in the dark. It certainly lacks the consoling official stamp that something like Social Security once did. It discounts the very real prospects of disabling injury, mental frailty, and illness, all of which fall disproportionately on the poorer and less well educated members of society. Our country just has to find a better way of holding up the people who can't hold up themselves.
But, for those of us who are lucky enough to have something we love to do it's hard to think of a better plan than to just keep at it. Or as the eminent medical writer Dr. Oliver Sacks put it in a recent essay:
Perhaps, with luck, I will make it, more or less intact, for another few years and be granted the liberty to continue to love and work, the two most important things, Freud insisted, in life.
Dr. Sacks is 80 years old.
[Image: Flickr user Tom Bech]