The American Dream & the Myth of Retirement

The American Dream & the Myth of Retirement

As a clergyperson, I harbor no real expectations of retiring in the traditional sense–i.e., working until the age of 65 (or 67 depending upon the generational cohort to which you belong) and then “retiring” (quitting) from work for the rest of my life.  While this will not dissuade me from planning and saving for later in life, the idea I have for my latter years is less “no work” and more “different work.”

The reality many of the current retirees face–including those who had well paying jobs, planned for the future, and did what they were “supposed to do”–is not one of their own making.  Many discover very quickly that even what they have isn’t enough and are forced to work even later than they ever expected, as detailed in this Washington Post piece entitled “Retirement Today.”

As I read through the article, I began to wonder what this says about our current society–in particular, how we’ve moved away from families supporting each other during our waning years towards a model whereby each one is solely responsible for themselves.  In many respects, this is the direct result of our capitalist system and an outgrowth of the de-centering of the family as the predominant social unit.

Given this reality, how might we envision a new idea of retirement, one not formed in the crucible of capitalist self-interest, but rather influenced by the values we find within our own Christian tradition?  Can we return to a time when the family unit–and I’m using the term “family” quite loosely, realizing it encompasses a whole host of folks who may not share DNA with you–is responsible for caring for those who cannot care for themselves, where the love and support of our elders is a sign of honor and respect?  While retirement as envisioned and sold by our economic system is one of posh living, sipping margaritas by the pool all day may not be what we’re hoping for, can we help create a situation in which those who have worked hard for the majority of their life are allowed to stop working, trusting that their needs will be met?

What do you think?  How do you envision your “retirement”?