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Living Longer and Retiring Later

October 30, 2009

There is always a silver lining.  It turns out that death rates decrease during recessions.  According to a story in Fortune (November 9, 2009 edition), there is “a virtual epidemic of people not dying.”  Consequently, profits are down at companies that make coffins.  Evidently,  a 1% increase in unemployment reduces death rates by 0.5%.  People smoke less, exercise more, sleep more, and eat less during recessions.  All that free time when you are laid off allows you to spend more time in the gym or going on long walks.

Fortunately for me, our board of regents has just been given me an unprecedented  opportunity to improve my lifestyle.   Starting soon I will be going on mandatory furloughs and having my retirement benefits cuts.  Although I am not joining the ranks of the unemployed, my compensation will be reduced significantly and I will get a tiny taste of what it is like to be unemployed.  Consequently, the resulting improvements in my well-being will be modest (minuscule may be more accurate), but it will be a start.   If some of the regents get their way,  I will have many more opportunities to improve my well-being in the future.

I had better use my furloughs to improve my health because the 20% cut in the university’s contribution to my retirement account will make it harder for me to retire.  To boot, because I will be living longer, I will need a larger amount of money to retire.  Thus I will have to work longer than I planned.  As a result, the very modest saving to the university from reducing its contribution to my retirement account will be minor compared to the salary that they will be paying me for an additional year or so beyond when I planned to retire.

To be honest, the last paragraph was rhetorical hyperbole as far as my personal situation is concerned.  It would be true if I were a beginning assistant professor, but I am not.   I have been a full professor for more than 25 years and have worked at the university over 35 years.  The size of my retirement savings is primarily a function of how well the economy performed, especially over the last 10 years — very badly.  The actual impact of the retirement benefit cut for me will be negligible.  I will be working longer than I had planned, but not because of the reduction of the university’s contribution to my retirement account.

In all fairness to the regents, this cut in contributions to my retirement account is supposed to be temporary.  Let’s hope it is. I hate gyms.  Unfortunately, some of the regents would like to reduce the university’s contribution to my retirement account even more and to make these cuts permanent.   I hate their involuntary wellness plan.

There is, of course, another way that I could use my new free time.  My health and other benefits remain largely in tact.  Perhaps, I should use my furloughs to eat, drink and make merry.  Instead of spending more time in the gym, I should be spending more time in bars and fast food places.  I have never made any use of our employee assistance program.   Now would be a good time to become an alcoholic or drug addict or to become obese.   I can make up for my lost pay by making use of free university counseling and other services for those that have fallen by the wayside.  This beats going to the gym, and I won’t have to worry about outlasting my retirement savings.   Unfortunately, as a life-long non-smoker and non-toker, minimal drinker, and facultative vegetarian, a dissolute life style does not really appeal to me.  My mother would be proud.

In any case, the recession will have to last a long time before I will be fit enough to live much longer than I am currently slated to live.  The longer the recession lasts, however, the more my compensation will be cut.  This means that my furloughs will get longer and that I will get healthier and live longer.  It is a vicious circle.  My only hope for getting out of it is that the regents will come to their senses and save me from the gym and immortality.

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