MAY 15, 1952
NEW YORK, Wednesday—In the State of New York the month of May is set aside as Senior Citizens' Month.
There is a legislative committee called the New York State Committee on Problems of the Aging, and their objective is to make life pleasanter for the old people by changing the attitude of the more youthful members of society. By keeping before us the fact that there are many senior citizens who are keeping active and living useful, happy lives which are serving others, they hope to make us realize the value of age.
This committee has in mind, of course, the fact that we are prolonging life—where the life expectancy used to be in the fifties, it is now between 70 and 80.
With age there should come greater kindliness and understanding of the problems of life, greater gentleness and wisdom. So much stored-up experience should prove to be a reservoir for young people to draw on. This presupposes, however, that the old ones keep in touch with the young, remain young in spirit if not in years, and, above all, that they themselves are ready to listen as well as to talk.
I think this work for our really senior citizens is going to succeed and I think we will learn even to humanize some of our laws. Social Security is not always sufficient for an older person to live on. There are small jobs that can be done by the oldsters to supplement this check—jobs that are not in competition with the younger and more active members of the working-age group.
I do not think, however, that this really old group is as serious a problem as the more youthful group. I am getting letters daily from men and women, who say that, having reached the age of 40 to 45, they are unable to find jobs.
They are told by the Federal government it is too late for them to come in there, and industry prefers the younger people. They are often men and women who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who have at times held responsible jobs. More often than not they have dependents, children not yet quite grown, who look to them for education and a chance to prepare for their future. These problems have never been given proper consideration.
It is true that the young should have their chance to enter the labor market. But it also must be possible for the middle-aged and the healthy elderly people not merely to get a Social Security check, but actually to feel that they are contributing to the earning power of the nation. We should make it so, certainly through the middle years and even into the very much older days.
A few of the letters that have come to me recently have been quite desperate in tone. One man told me he had registered in every employment agency, including the Federal employment bureaus and the state agencies. He sounded bitter and said he thought Stalin must laugh when he hears that able-bodied people at 45 could not find a job in the United States.
I am sure the Communists are delighted whenever they find a problem that the democracies have not solved—and this is certainly one of our unsolved problems. But I am not sure that it is satisfactorily solved in the Soviet Union or that my correspondent, if he were transported to Russia, would find his position any happier than it is here.