DECEMBER 27, 1954
HYDE PARK—Secretary of Labor James P. Mitchell has recently called attention to the question of hiring older people for jobs. Anyone who has watched the situation in the last few years is not surprised to hear that in 1975 the number of people over 45 will constitute more than half of our total population. Mr. Mitchell went on to say that "unless something is done to give them job opportunities, an estimated half of our adult population will be condemned to a life of economic uselessness."
I frequently get letters from people who say they cannot get a job because they are over 40. In the case of women, they sometimes despair if they are only 35. This situation is partly due to the fact that insurance costs go up as you have older employees. For this reason, I think, our whole attitude—even the attitude of the government—will have to be reconsidered. The compulsory retirement age should perhaps be entirely eliminated, and each case should be examined on its merits. I have known people who needed to retire at 40 or 45, but I have known others at 60 and even 70 who were far from reaching that point.
The most difficult thing in the world to acquire is experience, and time has granted most older people a certain amount of experience. There are many occupations, of course, in which youth and vigor are essential, but there are many others where steadiness, good judgment and experience are even more important. Curiously enough, some people grow stronger as they grow older, perhaps because they take better care of themselves. Often you find that people in their sixties and seventies have a record of fewer days out for illness than those in their thirties.
I think the government might well consider the possibility of holding re-training courses for men and women working in certain occupations that depend very greatly on youth and physical strength, so that they might take up certain new and more suitable types of work. Perhaps a preferential list could be kept for people over 40. Perhaps insurance companies could revise their policies, since the length of life has been increased and the amount of illness that comes in certain ages has certainly been reduced by more knowledge of how to care for one's health and by better sanitary conditions.
It is true that there may be problems in our labor market if more and more machines are going to do the work ordinarily done by human hands. But the older age group is as capable as any other age group of taking part in work developed in the way of services to the community. I think we should give this whole question, both from a government and a business point of view, close consideration in an effort to prevent half our population from feeling useless and unwanted and the other half of the population from carrying a very heavy and unnecessary burden.