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VIEWPOINTS : THE END OF MANDATORY RETIREMENT : New Law Benefits Many Who Need and Want to Work

Cyril F. Brickfield is executive director of the American Assn. of Retired Persons.

When I see bumper stickers that say: “I’d Rather Be Sailing,” I think of the number of reluctant retirees who would sport bumper strips proclaiming: “I’d Rather Be Working.”

That desire to continue working will be granted to hundreds of thousands of older people, thanks to a new law that amends the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to cover people over age 70. In effect, it eliminates retirement based arbitrarily on age for most workers.

Passed unanimously by both the House and Senate, the new law not only bans forced retirement but also prohibits age discrimination in hiring, salary scales, promotions and layoffs to all American workers aged 40 and older.

It does not require, however, that people continue to work if they do not want to.

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The Labor Department estimates that the elimination of mandatory retirement will result in the addition of 196,000 more older workers to the labor force by the year 2000.

A more striking statistic is that the new law benefits the more than 1.2 million workers aged 70 and older who have continued to work and have not been protected until now against age discrimination in all aspects of their employment.

The law most directly benefits people who need to work. Those who need or want to work for economic or personal reasons and who are able to perform their jobs competently have the right to continue working.

Their standard of living could drop dramatically if mandatory retirement were imposed.

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The average annual income for a single retired older man was about $10,900 in 1985, and significantly less ($6,300) for a single retired older woman. The new law will surely give older workers additional options.

But it benefits all Americans by confirming the vastly improved national attitude toward older workers. Congress’ overwhelming vote to eliminate age 70 as the mandatory retirement age reflects the public’s view that no one should be denied the right to employment because of age.

They’d Rather Be Working

In fact, the promise of early retirement has turned out to be a disappointment for many Americans who, in retrospect, would rather be working. One-third of the retirees surveyed in 1982 by Hamilton & Staff Inc. for the American Assn. of Retired Persons said that they would prefer work to retirement.

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The United States should continue to encourage older people to stay on the job if they wish to do so or to return to full- or part-time employment because they contribute so much to the economy.

Quite simply, workers pay taxes, and the elimination of mandatory retirement will cut Social Security payments by $20 million and Medicare costs by $5 million through 1991, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The national economy is not the only winner. Employers will also benefit. Business managers generally regard older workers positively. These employees are particularly valued for their experience, knowledge, work habits and attitudes.

Most companies report that the salary and health insurance costs of older workers are no higher than those of younger workers. Indeed, older workers could prove to be a blessing for business and industry.

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Employers are already facing the challenge of filling certain jobs because there are fewer youths to take them. By giving productive older workers the incentive to continue working, management will be better equipped to offset labor shortages.

After all, the older workers of tomorrow are the Young Turks of today.

The first wave of baby boomers turned 40 this year--an age at which they begin to be protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Hopefully, elimination of mandatory retirement will spark managers to make better use of older workers.

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Managers should ensure that the skills of older workers are as current as those of younger employees so that the entire work force will be flexible enough to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive global economy.

Employers also should be reminded that it is still illegal to deprive workers of promotional or training opportunities because of their age.

It goes without saying that workers of any age who can be described as “deadwood” should be released. All that any employee can ask is that he or she be judged on ability and receive training or retraining when necessary.

The generally positive national attitude toward older workers, the vigor of the generation now reaching 50-plus status and anticipated labor shortages all point to the desirability--and wisdom--of fully utilizing older workers.

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