November 13, 2005
Boomers Aren't Going Anywhere
-- People are busy talking about what this country is going to
look like in a few years when a cohort of 78 million Americans
acquire a title they never wanted: senior citizen. Hippies who
turned into yuppies are about to turn into golden oldies. Just
what I wanted to hear: more about the baby boomers.
recently wrapped up a series on aging in America that touched
on everything from life expectancy to saving for retirement to
long-term health care issues.
The newspaper insists that by the year 2046 -- when those Americans
who were born from 1946 to 1964 are between 82 and 100 years old
-- it'll be a boomer's world. As far as boomers are concerned,
the future promises to be, well, to use one of their words, groovy.
The way the article paints it: ``Thanks to lifestyle habits and
medical advances, they probably will be the healthiest group of
elderly in history. Thanks to extended employment spans, they
will be the wealthiest. Thanks to their huge voting bloc, they
will be the most powerful.'' So basically the boomers will have
their health, plenty of cash, and lots of political clout to get
And the point is? That's how it is now. Americans can't make it
through a presidential election without rehashing the Vietnam
War. The phenomenon began when the nation's first boomer president,
Bill Clinton, was accused by some of dodging the draft to avoid
going to Vietnam. The phenomenon reached ridiculous new heights
in the 2004 election with the emphasis on Swift boat veterans
and George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.
And when Bush started talking up the need to reform Social Security,
he framed the issue as a system in crisis because the program
wouldn't be there for boomers when they retire. He also tried
to head off any criticism from boomers by assuring them that any
changes wouldn't affect those who were 55 and older.
Nobody seemed to care much about the financial burden that will
almost certainly befall the two generations that follow the boomers
-- Generation X (now in its 30s and early 40s) and Generation
Y (in its 20s and teens) -- just to keep Social Security afloat.
Certainly not the boomers. What they care about is what the future
holds for them. And why should that surprise us?
This generation has never been plagued with low self-esteem or
the sense that the world didn't revolve around them. This is,
after all, the generation that helped deliver on the promise of
civil rights for blacks and Hispanics and equal rights for women,
that fought and helped end the war in Vietnam, and that helped
drive a corrupt president from office. You could stop there, and
already have enough to say grace over. Not boomers.
Listen to how Newsweek put it in a cover story this week
on the boomers turning 60: ``They and their siblings invented
not just the epiphenomena of youth culture -- blue jeans and rock
music, sexual permissiveness and political alienation -- but the
very idea of youth as a separate realm of experience and knowledge.''
That's a heck of thing to have on your resume, or to break the
ice at cocktail parties. ``That's Fred over there. He's a baby
boomer. He invented youth. Good for you, Fred!''
But even the egotistical baby boomers can't escape Father Time.
And so, the latest product being pitched is retirement planning.
Financial services companies are running commercials that rely
on lava lamps and images from the 1960s to convince boomers that
they really are getting older and approaching retirement age,
and that it's time to plan their exit from the work force.
Good luck with that. Boomers don't seem to be in any hurry to
leave. This is the generation that doesn't think the rules apply
to them, and that includes rules about getting old and retiring.
The Newsweek article mentions a retirement survey conducted
by Merrill Lynch that found that 81 percent of boomers plan to
work past the age of 65.
Expect many boomers to work from home, perhaps log shorter days
and weeks, but to keep on working as long as their minds and bodies
These folks aren't going anywhere. But you knew that.
2005, The San Diego Union-Tribune