Elderly's Push for Work Rights
Congressional Action to Raise Age 65 Cutoff
“To live is to work.” The old aphorism, the credo by which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes explained why he remained on the Supreme Court at age 90, the pnilosophic underpinning for the American work ethic, has suddenly become a political slogan for the nation's older citizens. With it, they have embarked on a fight to eliminate mandatory retirement for age from gainful employment as an immutable climax to productive years. In the process, they have raised far-reaching constitutional and economic questions: Is an extended working life a civil right? a personal necessity? or very possibly, an economic necessity for the nation? Politics and demographics may soon forge answers to these questions.
Congress, which normally recoils from sharp changes in existing programs, moved with unexpected speed this year to raise from 65 to 70 the age at which most workers can be compelled to retire. In less than five months from its final formulation in the House in June, both chambers overwhelmingly approved legislation to effect this change. The vote was 359 to 4 in the House and 87 to 6 in the Senate. The bills differed in some major respects but both versions agree in amending the Age Discrimination and Employment Act of 1967, which established legal protection against discriminatory employment practices for people of ages 40 through 64. The 1977 legislation (HR 5383) moves that upper age limit to 70.
Passage was preceded by several sets of hearings before both Senate and House committees—notably the House Select Committee on Aging, under the chairmanship of 77-year-old Claude Pepper (D Fla.)—dealing with the mandatory retirement issue. The House Education and Labor Committee, which initiated the legislation, drew heavily on evidence compiled by the Select Committee. In its report, the Education and Labor Committee said: