This is the first in a series of blogs on the topic of “Mid-life Empowerment.”  American workers in mid-life are being disempowered on every conceivable level.  Jobs are scarce.  Employer loyalty is unreliable.  Retirement savings schemes are difficult to realize.  Financial assets have lost value. Changes in the business world have rendered many hard-learned skills less relevant. It’s a tough time, despite the so-called economic recovery.  There is much to say about this condition that affects millions of Americans.

As a start, I want to talk about a serious flaw in the way that a lot of us think about retirement.  A few months ago, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking member of the Special Committee on Aging, told CBS News that, based on the loss of pension income and the decrease in the value of many American’s retirement savings, Americans should work longer if they’re able. “Working beyond 65, 66, 67, maybe even to age 70 makes a huge difference. [for collecting higher Social Security benefits.]”[1]

Collins’ view is considered the accepted wisdom on the topic. Americans should work longer.  She’s right and wrong, though.  Technically, yes, of course, the longer you work, the more social security you will collect.  But, what’s troubling about her comment is how out of touch is seems in the face of what most of us in mid-life would call reality.  What jobs are we doing to be working at until we’re 70?  Who is it that will be keeping us employed until we’re 70?   Look around your average Fortune 500 corporation.  How many 60+ workers do you see?  Take a look at virtually any business in the United States. Who is hiring 70 year olds?    I don’t have data on this, but I think we all know the answer is, “extremely few.”  So, even if we want to work until we’re 75, will we be able to?

Senator Collins is stuck in another era, a time when Americans got jobs with decades-long tenures, jobs where the employee could elect to stay working until age 70.  Can you think of any industry where that is a reality today?  It is certainly not the established practice in most profitable corporate industries.    It may be true in a variety of dead-end careers, such as low-level clerical work or public sector, but even in those arenas, layoffs are the norm.  You would think that a Senator with her responsibility for laws about aging would have a better handle on what’s actually happening in this country. The fact that she doesn’t is part of the problem. No one with the ability to change things really understands what’s going on.

There are good and bad reasons for this situation. Age discrimination is a serious problem, of course. It’s unfair, illegal, and completely real despite all kinds of tap dancing around the issue in the world of recruiting and human resources.   At the same time, there are legitimate reasons why older people do not get preference in hiring.  If we can be honest with ourselves, we should acknowledge that in many hiring situations, a younger worker can do the job better, work hard, get paid less, and be easier to manage.  How are your social media marketing skills these days?  How is your JavaScripting ability?  How’s your familiarity with Millennial’s use of wearable technology?  What will it cost to pay for your health insurance, compared to someone who is 27?  Whom would you hire?

How can we empower ourselves for success and wealth in these challenging conditions?   There are many good answers.  Things are not good in the American economy for mid-life workers, but that doesn’t mean we should be depressed and pessimistic. Rather, we need to be self-empowering realists.  We need to stop bemoaning things that are going on that we can’t control. We need to hit hard where we can make the most impact for our own advantage.

More to come…