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Equal Pay for Equal Work for Older Workers Too

mgullettes Icon Posted by Margaret Morganroth Gullette

April 17th, 2010

An op-ed in the Boston Globe (April 15th, 2010) urges Americans to care for the happiness of our older citizens as the writer says the Japanese are beginning to do. The article focuses on a Japanese businessman who provides temp jobs for 370 people over 60 who have been forcibly retired.

Multiplied across millions of households, the search for harmony and happiness becomes an issue of national importance. In a series of interviews with policy experts, business people, service providers, and civic activists, the priority that kept coming up was ikigai, which translates as “life worth living.’’

Many people want to work in retirement and need to work–for money, social engagement, structure in their day. There’s a startling disparity between the lofty goals and the means suggested.
The danger in the Japanese model is to self-esteem and fair-labor practices.

Older people in Japan are hired at lower wages than those they earned before–often in the same organizations where they worked before. A version of this happens here. Factory workers can be paid less because they were downsized somewhere else for being “too old” and can’t find a job at their former salary or anything like it, for the same reason. Professionals are having the same problems. Temp jobs are insecure, without benefits or vacations.

Middle ageism has been dumping workers in their prime years–in their forties, fifties, and sixties. Then, as if that were not humiliating enough, they wind up–if they find work at all–undercutting wages for others. We don’t want to turn midlife and older workers into scabs.

And if we care about “a life worth living,” we want people who age into their middle years to earn adequate wages. Most people over 65 receive Social Security, but the check may be utterly inadequate. In 2009, the average retired woman received $890 a month.

The argument is that after a certain age our powers are “declining.” But that canard won’t hold water when the whole ageist and middle ageist system is used simply to create another reserve army of the unemployed. Women are still fighting for “equal pay for equal work.” Let that be a rallying cry for everyone who plans to grow older.

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