I remember when the Beatles sang "When I'm 64," never imagining they would ever get that old. The remaining members, Ringo and Paul, are older than that now. As I get older,my views of what is old are changing. My grandmother retired from her factory job in her early 60's, only to go back to school to become an L.P.N. at the age of 63 when my grandfather died. We marveled at how someone so old could go back to school and do well. She did do well, too, until she was forced to retire at age 70. In her last 9 years she never regained the vitality and drive she found in her 60's, deprived of the vocation she had loved in the short time she was able to flourish.
When I first started handling discrimination cases, after the Civil Rights Act was amended in 1991 to allow jury trials, I figured I would handle these cases for ten years or so until unlawful discrimination was wiped out. I started out handling personal injury cases, for both plaintiffs and defendants. Discrimination cases were more interesting to me, as a child of the 1960's and 1970's. In the early 90's, I didn't think much about age discrimination. It was sexual harassment and race discrimination that I found interesting. Not surprisingly, as I aged, I saw more age discrimination. But, I figured discrimination would be on the downswing by the turn of the century. I was naive.
The federal government amended the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to eliminate the age 70 limit to discrimination, but the state of Missouri did not. With people living longer and longer, more and more people will want to continue to work after 70, especially after the demise of employer funded retirement plans for growing segments of society. But employers are not always willing to accommodate the desires of older wannabe workers.
If you are a federal judge or a U.S. Senator, you can expect gainful employment well into your 70's, or 80's or older. The remainder of U.S. employees are not so fortunate. If you are a man or woman in your 50's and seeking employment, you are pretty screwed in this country. I'm old, at 60, but I am fortunate to be self-employed. I profit from the misfortune of others my age, who aren't lucky enough to have their own businesses.
It's true that some people are infirm and unable to work into advanced age. So are some younger people. However, in our beauty, youth-conscious culture we sometimes ignore those people who have learned much from life and have much yet to contribute. I wonder what my grandmother might have accomplished if she was allowed to work as long as she was able. I doubt she would have succumbed to the crippling depression that plagued her in her final years.
Now, when I look into a mirror, I am struck by the image of my grandmother staring back at me. At 60, I, too, have gone back to school, mainly for fun. I am taking a physics course now since I skipped most sciences and math when I was young and an undergrad, and I am having a blast. I am a much better student now, since I am not caught up in planning my wedding and partying into the night. Right now, I am watching Mick Jagger on television, the oldest, coolest, weirdly sexiest old man rocker there is. He's way older than me. Aretha Franklin just got done singing, another senior citizen. She was on after B.B. King, who is closer to 90 than 80.
Here's to the senior citizens! Let them have some jobs!