True to form in this protest-rife land, Sarkozy's announcement that he intends to raise the national retirement age sometime this summer sent thousands of demonstrators spilling into the streets last month in opposition. But this time the French are part of a larger tide of anger and anxiety surging across Europe.(via Betsy's Page)
With budget deficits ballooning across the continent, and a huge bailout of debt-ridden Greece on the verge of taking place, officials across Europe say they have no choice but to boost retirement ages if they are to tackle a monumental economic problem compounded by declining populations and longer life spans.
But few issues are as sensitive in a region where the right to retire at a decent age, and retire well, is considered almost an inalienable social right. For many here, it's one of the defining elements of their identity as Europeans, part of what they feel makes them different -- more reasonable, more humane -- from overworked, overstressed Americans. . .
But the retirement age in the U.S., now 66 but set to rise to 67, has until recently outstripped that of almost every country in Europe. In nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes the U.S. but is dominated by European states, the average retirement age a decade ago was just under 62.
In some countries, it's even lower. Some Greeks -- including hairdressers, who are deemed to work with dangerous chemicals -- are allowed to quit working at 50. Such open-handed policies have bred tension with more frugal countries such as Germany, which is now on the hook to help rescue its Mediterranean neighbor from bankruptcy. . .
That doesn't satisfy defenders of the status quo, who see the European way of life under threat. In February, a Spanish proposal to boost the retirement age was able to provoke street protests that an unemployment rate of nearly 20% failed to do. . .
More than residents of almost any other European country, the French say they want to stop working as soon as possible. Their legal retirement age is already among the lowest in Europe. Most workers actually give up their jobs a little before turning 60.
"Even if today we live better, and our health coverage and healthcare are better, why does that mean we have to use that for working?" said Remy, the railway employee here in Amiens, a once-prosperous town in northern France that has fallen on harder times.
When he began working as a maintenance man for the SNCF railway service 30 years ago, at age 20, his contract allowed for retirement at 55. (Drivers can stop working at 50.) But changes afoot mean that he could be docked as much as 20% of his pension if he leaves the job as early as he planned, a monthly hit of about $400.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Remind Me Why Lefties Admire Europe?
Henry Chu of the Los Angeles Times reporting from France: