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20% of elderly Americans are either employed or looking for work. Here's why.
Two new reports highlight the stark realities of the modern workforce.
- For the first time, over 20 percent of senior citizens are working or looking for employment.
- By contrast, over half of millennials believe they will be millionaires despite contradictory evidence.
- Regardless of age, the question remains: Is work meaningful when the main goal is a paycheck?
A 2017 study on nursing home populations found four key experiences most prevalent for deriving meaning in life:
- Physical and mental well-being
- Belonging and recognition
- Personally treasured activities
- Spiritual closeness and connectedness
Money is nowhere on this list — odd, given how much weight we assign it during the course of life. That's likely the consequence of a competitive market in a world with a serious resource distribution problem. We lose sight of what matters until it's (almost) too late.
There's a deeper question here about the nature of work, which is, of course, fluid. Over the course of my Gen X lifetime, I've watched the expected employment regimen evolve from securing a good job at a dependable company to ensure a pension — my father worked for more than four decades on this path — to the challenging realities of the "gig economy," which I've been involved with for over 15 years as a contractor.
Before returning to meaning, let's look at two new reports that highlight tectonic shifts in the current employment landscape. The data come from the extremes: one set from senior citizens, the other millennials.
In a report compiled by United Income, over 20 percent of Americans aged 65 or over are either employed or looking for work. This represents the highest number to date. Interestingly, over half of these seniors are college-educated, pushing income rates up by 63 percent from 1985. Another boon is health: 78 percent of those employed report being in good health or better.
While there are positive benefits to this — people derive meaning from work at any stage of life; remaining socially active is a driver for good mental and physical health — there is a downside: many Americans cannot afford to retire. In a youth-obsessed culture that makes employment harder to secure as you age, the notion of sending out your resume in your late 60s is a tough pill to swallow.
An interesting survey by TD Ameritrade of millennials age 21–37 highlights how the youngest members of the workforce feel about the future. The statistic receiving the most attention: over half of respondents expect to be millionaires in an era when the chances for that are worse than in previous generations.
The data were skewed heavily male, with 73 percent believing millionaire-status to be in the cards compared to 38 percent of females. Another eye-opening generational change: the average age millennials enter the workforce is 25; males believe their retirement will come at 53, while woman claim 59. That's quite a shift from the surging number of over-65s slinging coffee beans.
Not that all hope is lost. Instead of believing millions will just roll in, 79 percent of male millennials actively save money, alongside 62 percent of women. Thirty-nine percent of this age group is storing money away for an emergency, an especially important trend since 40 percent of Americans cannot cover a $400 emergency. It's good to see the younger generation being proactive with savings.
27-year-old Garston Tremblay, a developer, enjoys a bowl of cereal at his desk while at work at Rally Software Development in Boulder. Image source: Denver Post Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon
These two reports highlight a stark reality about work and income. Societies are fluid; few joining the workforce today expect to be at the same company in five years, much less 50. Yet both age groups, representing opposite ends of the employment spectrum, are in different financial situations than they expected (or expect) to be. Considering that a "rough estimate" of $1–$2 million is needed to "retire fairly comfortably," many Americans will be working as long as possible simply to survive.
As mentioned, money was not among the key attributes for deriving meaning in life. Work can provide meaning; in fact, if you treat your occupation meaningfully, your days will be impactful and potentially transformative. Yet when a career is purely for the financial benefits — or mere survival, as is the case of the over half of Americans earning under $40,000 a year — it's harder (though not by any means impossible) to derive meaning while running in the rat race.
When Abraham Maslow published his "hierarchy of needs" in a 1943 paper, physiological necessities (health) and safety (requiring money) provided the foundation of the pyramid. At the top are love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, which aligns with the principles espoused by nursing home residents. It's tragic that it takes many until the end of life to realize this, that we don't have the social safety nets in place for more people to climb the pyramid earlier in life.
Ready to see the future? Nanotronics CEO Matthew Putman talks innovation and the solutions that are right under our noses.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
The Fermi paradox asks us where all the aliens are if the cosmos should be filled with them. The Dark Forest theory says we should pray we never find them.
The Milky Way galaxy has 200 billion stars and perhaps 100 billion planets. If even a small fraction of those planets harbored life, and even if only a pathetic scattering of those planets had lifeforms which became intelligent, our galaxy would be teeming with alien civilizations, some of whom would be either looking for us or discoverable for at least a little while.
President Vladimir Putin announces approval of Russia's coronavirus vaccine but scientists warn it may be unsafe.
A new coronavirus vaccine on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP
Medical workers draw blood from volunteers participating in a trial of a coronavirus vaccine at the Budenko Main Military Hospital outside Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
A report from the New York Times raises questions over how the teletherapy startup Talkspace handles user data.
- In the report, several former employees said that "individual users' anonymized conversations were routinely reviewed and mined for insights."
- Talkspace denied using user data for marketing purposes, though it acknowledged that it looks at client transcripts to improve its services.
- It's still unclear whether teletherapy is as effective as traditional therapy.
Talkspace.com<p>Former employees also questioned the legitimacy of certain interventions by the company into client-therapist interactions. For example, after one therapist sent a client a link to an online anxiety worksheet, a company representative instructed her to try to keep clients inside the app.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was like, 'How do you know I did that?'" Karissa Brennan, a therapist who worked with Talkspace from 2015 to 2017, told the Times. "They said it was private, but it wasn't."</p><p>Other former employees said the company would pay special attention to its "enterprise partner" clients, who worked at companies like Google. One therapist said Talkspace contacted her for taking too long to respond to Google clients.</p><p>Talkspace responded to the Times with a Medium <a href="https://medium.com/@founders_22883/talkspace-founders-respond-to-a-new-york-times-article-78d6f5c45c59" target="_blank">post</a>, which claimed the Times report contained false and "uninformed assertions."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Talkspace is a HIPAA/HITECH and SOC2 approved platform, audited annually by external vendors, and has deployed additional technologies to keep its data safe, exceeding all existing regulatory requirements," the post states.</p>