Is Retirement Unamerican?

Posted on December 30, 2010


This is a unique time. The aging population is growing very rapidly as baby boomers are reaching 65. This reality will strain the entitlements of medicare and social security more now than at any other time in our history. In fact many are faced with the reality that they will not be able to rely on social security as their major source of income. Many will not retire or will start businesses or will be independent contractors.

Where did this notion or retirement come from? Many might be surprised that the first country to give aid or social security to its aging population was not the United States, it was Germany. In 1881 Emperor William the 1st suggested it to the German Parliament. The German social security program began in 1889 for its workers over 70. Then the age was changed to 65.

During the Great Depression, when jobs were scarce, many complained that younger workers could not find work because older workers were hanging onto their jobs. These older workers could not afford to retire due to strained economic times. The notion of pensions was rising in government work, first with the military, then in other government services. Social security was put in place in 1940 to help older workers afford to leave their jobs. It was also there to help single women with families and orphans. Up until this point, many families lived with their elders in the family home place. They took care of each other. This was especially true in rural areas where generations worked together on the family farm. With the industrial revolution, the population was more transient-leaving the countryside in search of work in the factories. This was the beginning of change in the American family unit. The depression hits and FDR used this great economic downturn to bring about progressive change, or the reliance on government instead of family and communities to solve problems. It is no accident that this was the period of the rise of the progressive movement.

Many concepts that had their beginnings during the birth of the progressive movement go against the core principles of Americanism and have created a reliance on government services. What core principles? Self sufficiency, personal and community responsibility, work ethic. Are these ideals dead in America? I am happy to report you can find examples of an incredible American spirit in the likes of Sally Gordon. She is 101 years old and still walks to work at the Nebraska State Capitol. And Earl Stucky who is well past traditional retirement age and his family who operate the family cattle ranch in Montana. (The story of their ranch and 2 other family ranches are documented in “The Last American Cowboy” which airs on Animal Planet‘s Green station. See link below.)  And as I approach my retirement years, I am building a yarn dying business as well as a farm raising fiber animals such as registered Shetland sheep. Many who are facing retirement are starting businesses and taking the reigns of their financial future, not leaving it in the hands of the government.

However, you do not have to look far to see the effects of people who rely on government services for their well-being. The recent blizzard has left New York City snow bound more than 4 days after the event. Roads have not been cleared and many people are blaming the local government for emergency services not reaching a pregnant woman in labor and a woman having heart pains, who later died. Where is personal ingenuity? Why haven’t communities gotten together to solve these problems. I am glad I live in the country where it is more likely neighbors help neighbors. People need to have belief in their own power to survive, they need to Be American.

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