Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

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Several weeks ago the New York Times published an opinion piece with this heart-stopping headline: “For the Good of the Country, Older Americans Should Work More and Take Less.”

The authors of the essay, two highly educated scholars, observe correctly that the Social Security system will face a shortfall in just seven years if nothing is done. Their solution: Since older Americans are drawing more in Social Security and Medicare benefits than they paid in, they should postpone Retirement and work longer, and even relinquish some of their current benefits.

By way of illustration, the scholars draw a picture of healthy 65-year-olds who “live independently, play golf or pickleball daily and travel far and wide.” No doubt this picture is drawn from people in the authors’ social circles, though it represents a fiscal reality only for the top 7% of American households.

(I did notice that the scholars do not include examples of widows depending on Social Security to survive, men and women who retired with disabilities, or older adults forced to choose between feeding themselves or filling their prescriptions. Those examples also represent Social Security and Medicare recipients.)

In any case, what angers me is the scholars’ attempt to drag us into the Guilted Age. They want us to believe we of a certain age really ought to be ashamed of ourselves for taking benefits that (1) we paid for throughout our working lives and (2) provide modest resources for us in the years when we work no more and our health is less certain.

To be fair, the essay does contain several good policy ideas for resolving the fiscal problems of Social Security. It’s just that the two ideas in the headline – working longer, accepting benefit cuts – are not among them. It seems to me these scholars have called attention to a real problem but singled out the wrong people to blame.   

A Better Idea

Social Security and Medicare have serious financial problems. This is not news. Congress has known it was coming for at least 20 years. There’s even a solution to the Social Security shortfall. Right now FICA taxes are withheld from employees’ paychecks (and matched by employers) – but only on the first $160,200. Any salary above that is FICA-free. Why? If FICA taxes were assessed on all income, the additional revenues from higher earners would take care of the shortfall for years. Assessing high earners at the same rate as everyone else seems fairer than reducing benefits for millions.

I wish this were the only example of Guilted Age thinking, but it is not. “The US has too many retirees” said a headline on LinkedIn last week. Janine Vanderberg, director of the anti-ageism initiative Changing the Narrative, was quick to respond, “It’s time to rewrite this headline!” Despite media sounding alarm bells in recent months over “the great resignation” or “the great Retirement,” Vanderberg points out, research shows what was really happening was companies deliberately shedding older workers (which gives a reality check to proposals that we should work longer).

At least when Bloomberg News published a report last week, “Millions of Retired Americans Aren’t Coming Back to Work as Predicted,” it was careful to note that for many older workers, “leaving the labor market is a one-way street.” In 2022, it noted, the median job search for people age 65 and older took 31.6 weeks – nine weeks longer than the average for all workers.

Guilt-Free Advice

I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t need anyone’s help to feel guilty. I do that just fine on my own. So here is my guilt-free advice about working and Retirement:

  • If you’re working and it satisfies you, great! By all means keep working.

  • If you’re working only because you need the money, condolences. Try looking around for work alternatives that would do more for your spirit.

  • If you’re retired but working part-time, and you like it, fantastic!

  • If you’re retired and you don’t want to go back to work, just say no.  You’ve earned the right to rest.

Just keep your eyes and ears open for more pundits and politicians trying to sweep you into The Guilted Age. Don’t let them. You didn’t start this dumpster fire.

In Other Business

I am writing a book about new forms of Retirement. It has been a part-time project for many months, but now it is time to bear down.

I’m confident I can do that and still continue to post weekly, as well as provide the biweekly NewScan for paid subscribers. But sadly, I have concluded that I can’t also sustain biweekly podcasts. So I am suspending the podcast for now. The archives of the past two years of podcasts (and posts, for that matter) are available at

The EndGame is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Don Akchin Publisher/Podcaster at The EndGame

Don Akchin is a recovering journalist who publishes a weekly newsletter and biweekly podcast called The EndGame, which encourages "chronologically gifted" baby boomers to live their later years with joy and purpose. In his former life he wrote for magazines, newspapers, colleges and universities, and nonprofit organizations.