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Need a pension? Say, `I do'

Here's a modest proposal: Match boomers with New Dealers and the benefits flow.

April 26, 2006|Barbara Garson | BARBARA GARSON is the author of the play "MacBird" and a new comedy about pensions, "Security."

CAROL HAS BEEN my political mobilizer for more than 40 years. In college, I marched on the civil rights picket lines she organized. After graduation, her peace group bused me to Washington every few years for another "Get Out of ___ " demonstration. Then she joined the staff of a global-justice organization that got me to that big WTO protest in Seattle.

But the last time I dropped in at her office, she pulled me into her cubicle and asked if I could help her find a real job.

"Our college friends are already talking about retirement, but I don't earn enough most years to even pay into Social Security."

Her idea was to take a "real" job for the last years of her working life in order to earn a pension.

"You're too late," I said. "Don't you read your own propaganda?"

Carol just about invented the phrase "race to the bottom." Yet she hadn't noticed that even the most profitable companies were cutting wages and freezing pensions in order to compete.

The "real" jobs she remembered were on their way out. The thing to do, I suggested, was more fundraising, so she could turn her good deeds into a grown-up job with benefits.

"What you do here is so important," I pleaded. "I'm grateful, the Global South is grateful, and look" -- I pointed to the table where a knot of volunteers in their 80s, and one in her 90s, was putting out a mailing -- "these old lefties love you for giving them something relevant to do in their retirement.

"Hey, wait a minute," I said. "You don't need a fundraiser. You need a matchmaker!"

"Let's not go into my love life," Carol said.

"It's not a question of love," I explained, "it's demographics. Do-gooder organizations are staffed by 1960s dropouts plus 1930s survivors.

"People who lived through the Depression didn't drop out. They stayed at their jobs, fought for Social Security and organized unions. They don't have the wealth to leave big bequests, but they still have pensions that can be inherited by surviving spouses. So if the '60s- generation staffers marry the worked-their-whole-life-in-the-Post-Office, New Dealer volunteers, they'll have themselves a job and a pension."

CAROL THOUGHT it was idiotic, but because she loved her work, she gave me permission to try my matchmaking skills.

The first octogenarian I approached took to the idea immediately, but he rejected Carol. He wanted to marry a younger staff member.

"Now look," I warned him, "there'll be nothing personal in this."

"Of course not," he answered. "It's just, those bastards I worked for did everything to push old people out before they could collect the pension. But I hung in, and every month I live is a spite to them. If I have a widow -- a young widow -- they'd have to go on paying for another 20, 30, maybe 40 years. So I want someone young and healthy."

"Fair enough," I said, and made arrangements with a 50-year-old on the staff.

Single old man No. 2 was perfectly happy to marry Carol. His only request was naming rights; he wanted her job retitled the "Alfred Sandler Executive Directorship." Because Alfred had both Social Security and military pensions, I accepted his proposal on Carol's behalf.

I hadn't thought about matchmaking for the intern on the staff. He was in his 20s and couldn't collect a pension for decades. Besides, he was a darling, and we all hoped he'd find a real sweetheart. But the 92-year-old female volunteer didn't want to be left out. She had health insurance that covered a spouse.

"The poor kid coughs all winter," she pointed out. "Let him get a good checkup for once. Then he could divorce me. I won't contest it."

So we held a triple wedding at City Hall. Afterward, everyone shook hands, and six securely pensioned, insured individuals went home their separate ways.

My scheme can work for any small group. If your purpose is benevolent, I'll be happy to come in and be a matchmaker. We might as well squeeze the most we can out of the remnants of the real jobs we used to have in this country.

Unfortunately, there aren't enough of them left to help the bulk of today's insecure workers. For that we'll have to organize on a more principled basis.

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