Retirement conjures images of sunny climes, shuffleboard, morning golf, afternoon pinochle and all the other luxuries of financially secure golden years, following years of hard work.

Yet retirement, more and more, is deviating from this stereotype. The word is becoming a status, instead of a lifestyle. We can be retired but still expected (or, oftentimes necessitated) to do everything we did, or needed to do, before retiring.

In Maine, we don’t blink when a retiree re-enters the work force, starts a business or volunteers in the community. It’s their retirement; they can do what they wish. Given Maine’s graying demographic, the sight of a working retiree is a common occurrence.

So is the sight of people working well past retirement age.

Why the fuss, then, about public sector retirees returning to their jobs, if they are eligible for their pensions and follow all retirement rules? At best, this is a double-standard unique to that sector, as a public servant receiving two compensations for one job seems distasteful.

Even when, as in Lewiston, it makes fiscal sense. Three public employees – the police chief, human resources director and fire chief – are retiring. They will start collecting their pensions while retaining their positions and salary, to save the city $60,000 on their benefits.

On its face, it’s quite a deal. The employees get a sizable increase in compensation – salary plus pension – while forgoing some down the line. The problem comes from being seen as paid more for the same job, which is more ethically, than technically, problematic.

It does feel wrong. There’s no reason these employees or others should receive significant increases in their compensation overnight, by virtue of changing their status from “active” to “retired.”

Yet there’s no reason they shouldn’t, either, especially when, in the long view, it saves taxpayer dollars while retaining the same level of service.

There are occasions when it shouldn’t happen, though, such as when it violates retirement law, or if the retiree – by virtue of less cost – is chosen for a position over a more qualified candidate who may demand a higher salary. Call it “financial discrimination.”

Or, if going forward, early retirements cease becoming voluntary gestures and become fiscal policy in tight budgets. Retirement is not a safety valve and employees should not be intimidated by the choice of taking their retirement, which they’ve earned, or losing their job.

As Maine and its public work force grow older, the prospect of retiring and rehiring becomes more probable. Some think a “seasoned work force” is one of Maine’s greatest assets. Government always should remember, though, that expertise is most valuable, not just bottom lines.

Retiring and rehiring already has a negative public image. Doing it because it’s the cheaper way to govern, not the best way, would turn it from poor perception to poor practice.


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