[MINORITY VOICE]Let's Brighten Life for the EldersAs a resident of America, every time I visit Korea I am amazed at the dynamism in Korean society. The faces and clothes of young people on the streets reflect the energy of life. But - is it because of my age? - the drooping shoulders of the elders oddly contradict the liveliness of the young and strike me as a depressing self-portrait of our society.
Where is the place for retired people in Korean society? Unfortunately, graying retirees are rarely seen at the focal points of culture and society. Television programs, films and printed media ?so-called pop culture ?are abnormally centered on young people. People in their 30s and 40s long ago lost their visibility in pop culture, which is saturated with the superficial sensibility of people in their teens and 20s. Experience is disregarded as old-fashioned, and life after retirement is identified with the fading of twilight and self-destructive feelings.
Compared to retirees in the developed countries, who enjoy the richness of life and the refinements of culture, the image of elders in Korea is wretched. It is even questionable whether there is a culture of retirees. How retirees in their 50s and 60s should live their lives is not just a personal matter but also a task for the government. The situation is completely different in other developed countries, including the United States, which forbids discrimination by age in employment, promotion and layoffs under the Age Discrimination In Employment Act of 1967. These days, age for U.S. retirees is only a mathematical concept. Government programs provide them with opportunities to use their experience to benefit society, such as through volunteer programs. The government's measures prevent people from dwelling too much on their bygone youth.
In a mature society, it is taken for granted that senior citizens will return their experience, knowledge and wisdom to society. Aging is not considered shameful, and elders are not marginalized from the cultural center. Elders should meet challenges with dignity, and the government must set up a legal system to help them meet challenges. A change of popular perception of later life and adoption of long-term government policies will be needed. In the last 20 years, a pension fund, medical insurance and unemployment insurance were established in Korea, but there has been controversy over the effectiveness of these systems due to inefficient management. We should not repeat these mistakes in solving the problems of retirees. In 2005 Korea is expected to become a so-called aging society with 7 percent of the population aged 65 or over. The government should make it a priority to enact laws to make lives of elders richer, before it is too late.
The U.S government spends enormous amounts of money every year to develop programs to improve the quality of life for the "Baby Boomer" generation, which is reaching retirement age. The fact that the American Association of Retired Persons, or AARP, has become one of the most influential interest groups in the United States is not a coincidence. We should all remember that life shines more when one's life becomes richer as he ages.
The writer is chairman of the Korean Association of Retired Persons.
by Ju Myeong-ryong