CNN Senior National Editor
Do you call your aging parents daily to make sure they’re okay?
Or push your children to do their homework and worry about their future?
Do you feel squeezed, wondering when or if you’ll have time to catch up with your own life?
Or worry that when you get to retirement, whatever and whenever that is, you won’t be ready?
If so, you’re likely a baby boomer, one of 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, the biggest generation this country has ever seen.
For the older among you, life may have been sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll when you were younger. Now the sex may be less often, you can’t hear everything, and the drugs are for aches and pains, not recreation.
For the younger among you, hey, the President of the United States is about your age.
The ripple effects of this “silver tsunami” will last for years.
For the boomers, the future comes down to: how will we live, how are we going to afford it and who will care for us? For the generations that follow – Gen X and the Millenials – the question is: will the boomers spend our future and leave us nothing?
Not long ago, there was a lot of talk about boomers inheriting billions of dollars from their parents’ generation. You don’t hear much of that now.
Parents are living longer, the recession has chipped away at their nest eggs and they’re using that money for their own health care, living expenses and recreation.
The boomers are less secure financially than their parents, who may have had pensions and less risky investment to build on, along with Social Security.
Today fewer companies offer retirement plans, others are reducing benefits and the future of Social Security is uncertain. Retirement isn’t cheap, the economy is on the rocks, and Americans are lousy at saving money. That's a recipe for crisis.
The McKinsey Global Institute warns that “two-thirds of the oldest boomers are financially unprepared for retirement, and many are not even aware of their predicament. This lack of sufficient resources will not only mean a less comfortable retirement for tens of millions of households but also depress spending in the overall economy.”
Companies – from cruise lines to retirement communities and financial consultants – had hoped to profit from tens of millions of boomers with bulging nest eggs and decades of free time ahead. They’re now scaling back expectations.
“Many baby boomers are either delaying retirement or seeking a return to the workforce," wrote the co-founders of the Life Options Institute, an organization that helps people plan for life after age 50.
Some will stay on also because they like the work; some will look for jobs that offer a chance to make a difference in people’s lives, in schools or community organizations, for example.
The guru of this “encore careers” movement is Marc Freedman, who created Civic Ventures to help match programs with boomers’ education and work experience.
Still, boomers' needs will take up many of our society's resources, particularly our already-strained health care system. There may not be enough doctors, nurses, technicians and at-home help to care for everyone.
One group warns of a shortage of 44,000 family physicians and general internists by 2025. Another warns that 1 million new nurses will be needed as many of today’s nurses reach retirement.
That’s not what you need when you expect there to be three-quarters more elderly than today. That’s not what you need when you expect the number of doctor visits to rise by more than a quarter.
About 1 million work in home health care now, but experts say the nation will need another million by 2017 and as many as 3 million more by 2030, when all 78 million surviving baby boomers will be older than age 65.
The decline of manufacturing jobs could help the expanding health care industry. At colleges across Michigan, for example, classes that train for health care jobs – including nurses and technicians – are heavily enrolled.
Boomers will want to live at home as long as possible and avoid nursing homes or other facilities. And it’s no wonder. Nationwide, about a fifth of all nursing homes were cited for serious deficiencies in 2007. Congressional investigators found widespread “understatement of deficiencies,” including malnutrition, severe bedsores, overuse of prescription medications and abuse of nursing home residents.
Nursing home costs can top $100,000 in some areas. The average nursing home resident runs out of money in six months and must go on Medicaid, Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging has said.
Money, health care and housing - three big challenges to think about now as boomers skid toward retirement and a frayed safety net.
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