Retirement is one option–work is another

The year was 1933. The deep, dark Depression still hadn’t abated. And a young man, who had dreamed of being a mathematics teacher since childhood, graduated from the City University of New York with a master’s degree in his field.
But sadly, there was no work. Schools couldn’t afford to hire. And 22-year-old Milton Kaufman couldn’t even get a job clerking at Macy’s.
Consequently, his first job after graduate school was with the Works Progress Administration created by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Kaufman was one of 100 mathematicians who did actuarial work for the WPA at $18 a week.
True, it wasn’t much money, but Kaufman was one of the lucky ones. Many of his friends had no jobs at all.
One year later, in 1934, the bright young mathematician was hired by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thus, Kaufman began an uninterrupted 64-year career with the federal government.
He was transferred to the Census Bureau in 1952, and continued there until his retirement late last year at age 87.
When Kaufman started with the Census Bureau, five people worked in the Washington office. Now, there are nearly 150. During his term of service, he saw the population of the U.S. more than double.
Over the years, the successful mathematician changed and adapted. And grew with the times.
It was in 1956 that the first UNIVAC computer arrived. Kaufman was 45 at the time and his work with export statistics was one of the first jobs to be processed on the new computer.
As might be expected, the computer took up an entire room.
In all 64 years, Kaufman never lost his steam. He even found time to return to his first love and teach statistics in night classes.
The New York Times reports that when Kaufman retired, one of his colleagues declared that the 87-year-old mathematician still had “energy enough to work forever.”
Certainly, Milton Kaufman is a wonderful role model and a man to emulate.
That doesn’t mean that all of us have to work forever. Not if we don’t want to. But the thing we must learn from Milton Kaufman’s career is the astonishing breadth of options the 21st century will hold for mature adults.
For one of the things that Kaufman worked long enough to see change is mandatory retirement. Had he been born a few decades earlier, he would have had to retire at age 65 like everyone else.
But for today, and in the century ahead, the roadblocks to employment for older adults have been removed by law. And any ageism in the workforce is absolutely inappropriate and illegal.
No one denies this is an incredibly difficult time in the workforce–for younger workers as well as older ones. And often jobs seem to be terminated without sensitivity to the human cost.
The difference, however, is that an older worker will find it much more difficult to get a new job. For ageism in the workplace really isn’t dead. But it does help to know the law is on our side.
So what about you? How do you want to spend the last 20 or 30 years of your life? Retirement is fine if it fits. But if it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to look for a new job, or stay at an old one.
And when you need courage, just remember how Milton Kaufman paved the way.

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