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Lessons from Greece

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Monday, February 13, 2012
Posted: 10 am ET

As we watch Greece implode over reforms that call for shrinking pensions and a reduction in the minimum wage, I noticed this particularly frightening, close-to-home statistic, published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:

"According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly one-third of men between the ages of 55 and 61 did not work in January 2011."

These aren't just men who lost their jobs in the Great Recession and haven't been able to find another. The count also includes men who have opted out of the labor force and some who have never worked. It isn't even a new phenomenon. The number of nonworking men has been rising since 1990, when 25 percent of older men weren't working.

What causes people to hang up their work boots when they are this young -- when it's obviously a foolish retirement planning strategy? The answers are not definitive, but the Center for Retirement Research did draw these conclusions about the results of so much unemployment:

"More than any other group, nonworkers will be adversely impacted by any increases to the early entitlement age. Nonworkers are especially vulnerable in retirement because they are likely to have lower savings, Social Security benefits and pensions than workers."

As the riots in Greece make headlines, we are facing our own issues with rising Social Security costs, a Social Security disability system that is nearly bankrupt, and Medicaid and Medicare costs that also are out of control. Now's the time to put aside partisan pettiness and come to grips with exploding costs and high unemployment. We need to trim costs and get people back in the workforce where they can contribute to their own well-being and the greater good.

We must find ways to encourage employers to keep the rising number of older people on their payrolls and hire more of them. We also need to persuade capable older nonworkers to take available jobs -- even when it isn't  the perfect employment.

We ought to do it before we have our own Grecian meltdown.

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