It’s not been a great week for La Belle France. First their World Cup Soccer team – champions in 1998, (or Futbol as it is there) was unceremoniously dispatched from the tournament in the preliminary round. It was a major slap in the face to the loyal fans of Les Bleus.
Then American ‘Marathon Man’ John Isner outlasted French hope Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in the fifth set of a 3 day match that lasted more than 11 hours.
But outside the sporting world there is a strike going on in France this week, in which trains stood still, children stayed home from school, and post offices were closed. The strikes were a result of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to raise the retirement age to 62 years old. And my wife and I have had great times in France and we both kind of speak French. (She better than me).
France apparently has one of Europe’s lowest retirement ages – allowing workers to retire at age 60 in most sectors. My visceral reaction was that France is doomed. As of 2008 France was the 9th ranked country in the world for life expectancy with a person born that year expected to live to 80.87 years. It’s not a stretch to assume someone who has made it to 60 already would live past 80 into their 80’s even if they were born in 1950.
Retiring at 60? What are these people going to do for the next 25 plus years? I am guessing that most French people (like Americans and virtually peoples of all nations) don’t have extensive retirement funds they have squirreled away to last 25 years or more. France is a country struggling with a huge labor problem, an aging population and an economy that has weathered the storm better than many but still has suffered from the overall global economic downturn.
Taking to the streets to protest the unfairness of President Sarkozy’s proposal to help cut back on public debt is selfish and I daresay even foolish. It is also in contrast to what seems to be an emerging strength in technology in the French economy. There are a good number of up and coming companies that contribute greatly to both the French and world economy. I guess the people are protesting that they cannot sit around and sip wine and eat cheese whenever they want.
Full disclosure -I like to sip wine and eat cheese as much as anyone.
The United States has an even larger and eve- increasing public debt problem. Americans also seem to count down the days to retirement although many now are forced to continue to work in some capacity even after they have left their more ‘traditional’ jobs. That makes sense to me on many levels. When people who are turning 60 in the United States this year were born, the life expectancy was 68.2 years. If they have made it to 60 they are more than likely to live well past 80.
If you were born in 1942 for instance, your life expectancy at birth was about 68 years. But the good news is that you didn’t die of infectious diseases when young, car accidents, or anything else. The average 65-year-old today can expect to live another 18.4 years. So your life expectancy now is not the same as it was at your birth. It is 5.9 years longer than the current life expectancy figure (which is for people born in 2006) or 83.4 years.
Simply put the economics of retirement make it extremely difficult to retire at age 60 unless one is independently wealthy. If France (or the U.S. for that matter) goes down the road it is on people may be able to retire at age 60 but there won’t be places to buy the wine or cheese since nobody will be around to work in the shop.
I’ve thought about this for a long time. Is working until age 70 a horrible thing? Maybe if you grew up thinking you’d be done at 62 or 65 but people are healthier and more vital in their increasing age than ever before in human history. Sorry folks you will have to grind it out a few more years for your own good and the collective good of your country. Vive la France! And Go U.S.A. But keep on working.
Think I am nuts here?