Is 70 the New 50?

Recently I helped a friend of mine revise his resume. This gentleman, now in his early 70s, has a Ph.D. and the kind of knowledge and skills it literally takes a lifetime to acquire. But there’s a catch. Most of the people with whom he has worked over his distinguished career are no longer active.

There is an entire cohort of men and women in their 70’s these days who are at the top of their skills with a vast body of knowledge that permits them to quickly advise clients what direction to take and what mistakes to avoid. These are people who know well the various trends in their industries and businesses, but who are often perceived to be too old to understand today’s quick-paced culture. Ironically, these are often the people who fashioned and shaped it.

Because Americans are living longer, often enjoying good health late in life, the question must be asked, is 70 the new 50?

According to data from the Senior Job Bank, America’s workforce is aging. By 2006 more than 15% of the U.S. labor force was 55 or older. By 2004 there were more than 33 million people aged 65 or older living in America, representing12.7% of the total population, about one out of every eight Americans. With every passing year, those numbers increase.

Senior citizens and aging baby boomers are the fastest growing demographic segment of the population. The stereotypes surrounding today’s senior frequently do not apply and this is especially true of those who have led vigorous intellectual lives in various professions and enterprises, and who want to continue.

Financially, they run the gamut from those who, if they wanted to, could play golf or pursue other interests for the rest of their days, to others who made plans for the future only to find themselves victimized by ever-rising property taxes, medical and other expenses that have risen in ways that no one could have predicted. Yes, Medicare does help, but one had better have other insurance plans in place as well.

The doors to useful employment are often closed to this remarkable cohort of people who were born just before, during or just after World War II. They have experienced the rapid changes technology have introduced and many are quite comfortable in front of a computer these days.

Old doesn’t mean brain-dead. It took the oldest President of our era to bring the Soviet Union to its knees and the senior citizen vote can determine who gets elected. A generation whose parents went through the Depression, who recall the abuse of presidential power that Watergate represents, or the folly of the Vietnam War, is not likely to be fooled by political clichés.

The irony is that, when they were born, the average life expectancy for a man was about 60 years of age. That’s why, when Social Security was introduced, one began receiving checks on reaching age 65. A lot of folks didn’t and the government, not their families, pocketed their withheld earnings.

Today, it is just the opposite. The average life expectancy these days is 78 years of age and lots of people are living well beyond that. My own father and mother lived to 93 and 98 respectively.

Today, Social Security is either technically broke or soon will be. I don’t want to even think about where the government will find the cash for the new prescription program of Medicare or for Medicare itself. Since Congress doesn’t want to deal with the problem, it will get very ugly one of these days that is going to arrive too soon for too many.

A nation that ignores a large part of its population with excellent skills is making a very big mistake. This is particularly true as we witness whole new generations that lack fundamental skills in reading, writing, and mathematics, many of whom have graduated from failed schools where indoctrination outweighs education. The cost of a college education today is truly obscene, saddling students with large debt before they even step out into the working world.

It is a fearful thing to encounter the gross ignorance of a younger generation that often seems only to know what it has “learned” from television and movies.

I am all for youth. However, until they can figure out what they’re going to do with their lives, it remains the task of older heads to insure they have a good future and I suspect that a vast treasure of people in their 70s — the “kids” who grew up preserving traditional values — are seeing their knowledge and skills wasted.

Writers like myself have a special advantage as we can work our trade well into our senior years. The age barrier, however, is very real and I suspect that many very capable seniors like my friend are encountering hardships despite being 70 and savvy.