Endangered Species: Workers With Pensions

Employees with pensions are not quite dinosaurs yet, we are probably more in the category of the spotted owl. Our rapidly diminishing group now consists almost entirely of unionized public sector employees, working people who earned all kinds of benefits for simply doing their jobs over a long period of time and then, obligingly, getting old.

I think of my pension as an inheritance of sorts, a kind of consolation prize when friends talk about their windfalls from dead relatives. It may not be much, but it arrives each month without any effort on my part allowing me to sit and my computer and feel like a paid writer.

Sunday, I was chatting with a realtor at a Berkeley street fair who appeared to be around my age. Her reaction to my obvious delight at being retired was one I have encountered often. It involves an enthusiastic proclamation of job love coupled with a desire to work until reaching death’s door. I have no reason not to believe her. I know Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court feels this way as well. Republicans and some Democrats have even kicked around raising the retirement age so folks can enjoy their jobs well into their dotage.

But many working-class folks have stressful, demeaning jobs that, as the body ages, wring the very life and spirit from them. It is not a blessing to be forced to perform this type of work until 70 years of age. Part of the conundrum professors and doctors, lawyers and CEOs face is that the simple fact of admitting that work is a moderately unpleasant chore for the majority of workers underlines a hard truth of capitalism:  in order for some people to excel at fulfilling and meaningful work, many others have to service them and their needs. They used to need to make the goods as well but this is less of an issue now that the manufacturing industry is drying up.

I am extremely grateful that I snagged one of the last working-class gems of a bygone era but also very depressed that the welfare of the generations behind me will be left up to chance. Those with prudent and frugal relatives or prominent families may have something to fall back on. But regular working people’s options are being sharply reigned in by feeding frenzy of plutocratic capitalism.