The American institution of retirement has sustained numerous attacks over the last twenty years, to the extent that it may cease to exist by the time most of today's workers reach their midsixties. Professor Patricia Dilley describes how all of the components of the "three-legged stool" that represents private pensions, personal savings, and Social Security, have declined so significantly in recent years that the combination may not be able to provide support for the elderly in the future, particularly those retired seniors who are in the lower and middle classes. Changes in employment policies, the markets for retirement savings investment, and the public policy surrounding the Social Security debate threaten the mainstays of golden years income upon which Americans have come to rely. Professor Dilley explains that previous civilizations were able to sustain the elderly members of their populations before retirement became the entitlement that it is today, but that the older members of those societies worked long past what is now deemed appropriate retirement ages and often relied upon family members or charity for support after they could no longer remain actively employed. She warns that unless retirement systems focus on a greater redistribution of resources from wealthy workers to poor ones, the lower- and middle-income work force will not be able to survive a retirement from work in their later years. Further, Professor Dilley argues that modern sociey need not declare a particular "retirement age" and that the system may work better if the elderly work as long as they can before retiring to certain financial support for their final years. She concludes by suggesting a two-part, citizen-based reform program in which Social Security and social insurance would expand to fill in the gap left by shrinking employer-based pension plans while allowing individual decisions about when retirement is most appropriate for each worker.
Patricia E. Dilley, Hope We Die Before We Get Old: The Attack on Retirement, 12 Elder L.J. 245 (2000), available at http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/facultypub/175