Posted by: patenttranslator | October 14, 2010

When Do Freelance Translators Retire?

The French are demonstrating in the streets again because their government wants to raise the retirement age in France from 60 to 62. What it really means is that if you are 60 in France and you have been working for at least 40 years, you can claim a minimum pension, but not a full pension yet.  But you would not find this information in the mainstream US media. You have to go to the blogosphere to get information and analysis that is not bought and paid for.

Sometime I wish I was French. Nobody ever seems to be demonstrating in the streets here in the sleepy suburbs of Virginia. I think that somebody would have to figure out first how to demonstrate while driving in your car since we don’t really have streets where you could walk and demonstrate to your heart’s content here in the suburbs. We have bedroom communities of spacious houses with totally useless, huge, water-guzzling lawns in front of them, connected by first-, second- and third- class highways. Nobody goes to downtown any more unless they have to and some cities don’t even have a downtown. Mine doesn’t. It does not seem to make much sense to demonstrate on your block in front of your house or along the highway. The housewives, I mean homemakers, walking their pooches would not like it if you dared to block their way. They would probably think that you are crazy. You’d better get out of their way if you know what’s good for you!

Here in the United States, the official retirement age is 66, but the corporations were able to figure out how to reduce or eliminate their contribution to private pensions for employees by making employees put away their own money for retirement, sometime with a matching contribution made by the employer. Based on what I read in the papers, the traditional retirement system essentially exists in United States only in the public sector. In other words, we in the private sector have to pay with our taxes for very generous pensions and healthcare benefits of the members of the government, and for less generous benefits of other government employees, but they don’t have to pay for pensions and benefits of workers in the private sector because they don’t have any. Sounds like a winner.

We should still be able to receive Social Security payments upon reaching the age of 66, provided that we live that long and that the money is not stolen, I mean invested in the stock market. That sounds like a winner too. Just ask any former Enron employee.

There is hardly any mention in the official media of the fact that the president has a special commission evaluating behind closed doors the viability of Social Security. You can only read about it on blogs which have dubbed this commission “Catfood Commission. The proposals that are allegedly being discussed (in spite of what candidate Obama promised, the talks are held behind closed doors) include mostly cutting benefits and raising the age for Social Security eligibility … to what? Would seventy be low enough?

The answer to the question in the title of this blog is, of course: they don’t retire because Social Security payments will almost certainly not be sufficient to pay all the bills. A generous estimate is that Social Security payments will probably pay for about a third of the typical budget of a typical person over 66 years of age. I know quite a few translators in their sixties, seventies, and even eighties. None of them is “retired”. I know one freelance translator over 66 who refers to himself as “semi-retired”. But his wife still works, (so she must be also “semi-retired”), and they did not have any children. As far as I can tell, this guy actually was kind of semi-retired his whole life. I sort of grudgingly have to admire his style. Another friend of mine, who is in his seventies, is still running his one man translation agency. He still sends me work sometime. Another freelance translator, who also sometime sends me work, is 82.

One the other hand, what would I be doing if I did retire? Read my books? Watch movies? Travel? I can probably do that in semi-retirement too. I did so much traveling already in my life. As a Japanese friend once told me: 貧乏旅行でもう疲れました (I am so tired of traveling on the cheap). And so am I. I would probably be really, really bored if I had to retire completely. Perhaps we, freelance translators, are actually quite lucky that we can die of old age while still working on the job. As long as our calcified brain and rheumy eyes are working and we can still type with our arthritic fingers, we can keep going. Welders, boxers or waitresses don’t have this option. They basically have to retire at a certain age. Which would have to be less than 66. And probably even less than 62.

General Douglas MacArthur once said that old soldiers don’t die, they just fade away. Old translators don’t retire, nor do they just fade away. They die working on their last translation to make their last estimated quarterly tax payment.


  1. […] Traditional employees also often suffer from what is called “age discrimination.” Self employed people usually don’t have to worry about this. Since “employers” of freelancers don’t have to pay for benefits and pensions, they don’t care how old we are as long as we are not likely to die of old age before the latest project is finished. The fact is that freelance translators often work well into their sixties, seventies and eighties, not necessarily by choice, as I write in another blog. […]


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