We are inundated with financial advice. Books, movies, podcasts, social media posts. Everywhere we look there’s advice ranging from how to be financially stable to becoming a millionaire thanks to our passive income channels. We’re told about saving and investing, budgeting and being frugal and best of all retirement. Let’s focus on retirement and the problem with the way we talk about it.
Why is retirement the goal?
Early retirement is the name of the game. We’re all nodding along with the anonymous person who said, “I have no dream job, I do not dream of labour.” The goal is to get out of the labour force as early as possible. It’s why get-rich-quick schemes such as gambling abound. No one wants to work, all we want is to retire with a decent nest egg that can meet our needs. The problem is we talk about retirement but not why we all hate our jobs. If a majority of the population can’t wait to exit the labour force, shouldn’t we focus on fixing the jobs not plotting our individual escapes? What’s even worse is people leave the workforce and some of them start businesses where they replicate the hellscape for others that they set out to escape themselves. The way we’ve organized jobs is the problem and individually escaping through retirement is not the solution. We need a social solution.
No more retirement
Pension and retirement are relics of the old times. Workers’ salaries are not rising at par with inflation. Job security is a thing of the past with many companies moving from permanent and pensionable models to contract-based models in order to save money. About 36% of Americans will not be able to retire, 41% say it will take a miracle and 59% will have to work longer than their parents had to before they can hope to retire.
Things are so bad, that workers are unretiring. That means people in their 70s and 80s who had stopped working, are going back into the workforce. One study found that over the next decade, the number of workers above 75 years is expected to rise by 96.5%. France had major protests with more than a million people on the streets when the president tried to raise the retirement age to 64 from 62 in older to force people to work longer. In Kenya, only 20% of the workforce is pensionable. In total, only 14% of Kenyans are confident they will be able to outlive their retirement savings.
To continue to talk to people about retirement as if employers are no longer paying pensions, as if the wages are not enough to live on much less save is to gaslight workers. Inflation and the changes in the workforce have made retirement an impossibility and until we face the systemic problems in place, there’s nothing we’re doing. These problems are bigger than the individual worker without a retirement savings plan. All workers need to take a page from France and organize together. Individual solutions will not do.
Our obsession with retirement planning and talking about how people, especially young people are not planning for it is classic victim blaming. To insist that it’s mere financial irresponsibility and a failure to plan when millions of people cannot afford to live, much less live dignified lives, is the worst form of victim blaming. People can’t afford to retire, that’s a fact and that’s not their fault. If you insist on continuing to harp on about retirement planning, talk about all those systemic barriers first, before choosing to disparage workers who are already dealing with too much. Stop it.
Work to live
No one asks to be born yet we are forced to work in order to live. If you can’t find work, then you don’t deserve to live is the implicit policy guiding our economy. First of all, it’s ableist. You don’t deserve to have your needs met only because you’re providing labour. Second, where’s the sense in that? No one chooses to be born so no one should be forced to trade their labour to survive. It’s like being punished for having been born. Isn’t life hard enough already?
The idea that you have to set aside a nest egg in order to have your needs met in your old age or else languish in poverty is archaic and inhumane. We need a society anchored on caring for each other and meeting each other’s needs period. It is possible. The only thing standing in our way is an economic system founded on the exploitation of workers. What’s that thing Karl Marx said? Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.
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