February 18th, 2009
10:00 AM ET

Boomers – get working or go bust

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Dave Schechter
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.

Filed under: David Schechter • Economy
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Jennie Laurie

    I am 45, and I KNOW I'll be working another 25 years. If I'm lucky enough, that is, both to be alive and have work. My mother is healthy and strong, which is better than an inheritance from her. My youngest is 12, plus another child in college. I am lucky, lucky, lucky to be here with my loved ones, employed, helping to support my family, and supporting myself by contributing to fixed-interest retirement savings. It's okay to expect to work. Why should I expect to be more wealthy in retirement than I ever was before it? I was never able to travel and live a carefree lifestyle.

    February 19, 2009 at 10:13 am |
  2. d. griffith

    People will retire whether they have money or not. I don't understand the need for so much money and retirement connection. Where I come from a lot of people are born broke, live their lives broke, will retire broke and will die broke. I have never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul. I was born in 1958 my sons are 24 and 25 my parents are deceased at age 72. So far I am truly blessed and broke.

    February 18, 2009 at 4:18 pm |
  3. Larry L.

    ------------–DREAM ON-------------–

    February 18, 2009 at 1:54 pm |
  4. Jack Flannigan

    Retire? That dream has gone down the drain. I will not complain about this as it will not accomplish diddly squat. With what has been lost financially I will be employed in at least a part time status until I push up the daiseys. That's O.K. as I was raised with the good fortune to be told to be productive as long as possible in some capacity. It shall be a bit longer than expected but I refuse to sit on the porch in the rocking chair while I am still able to be of some use. Suck it up and keep moving – don't let the sloths gain ground!!

    February 18, 2009 at 12:31 pm |
  5. VickiRae

    I cant really see a bommer having kids? I guess they are still breeding somewhere especially the ones that like to marry someone young enough to be their grandchild. HA

    February 18, 2009 at 12:28 pm |
  6. Jack Schultz

    Truman did it!! Hoover did it!! Eisenhower did it!! And
    OBAMA CAN DO IT!!!!!

    Create Jobs for LEGLE AMERICANS & SOLVE our immigration problem…

    Back during The Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover ordered the
    deportation of ALL illegal aliens in order to make jobs available to American citizens that desperately needed work.

    Harry Truman deported over two million Illegal's after WWII to create jobs for returning veterans.

    And then again in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower deported 13 million Mexican nationals! The program was called 'Operation Wetback' so that American WWII and Korean veterans had a better chance at jobs.
    It took 2 years, but they deported them!

    Now, if they could deport the illegals back then, they can sure do it today!!
    If you have doubts about the veracity of this information, enter Operation Wetback into your favorite search engine and confirm it for yourself.
    They abuse and overcrowd our school system & medical facilities & pay no taxes... The people that hire them should be fined and put in jail...

    Don't forget to pay your taxes...12 million Illegal Aliens are depending on you!

    February 18, 2009 at 10:37 am |
  7. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    I thought about retirement---now retirement, as I see it today, is a 18 square foot plot in Arlington Cemetery--–the ultimate retirement security---times are changing.

    February 18, 2009 at 10:35 am |
  8. Emma

    I am also at the younger younger end of the scale and European and guess what? This describes me very well. I will add that one of my grandparents is still living and that my oldest child is 12 !!! So I know that I will have to work all my life. That's OK.

    February 18, 2009 at 10:28 am |
  9. S.Lewis

    The article in the New York Post regarding the Stimulus Bill and the shooting of the chimpanzee is a poor way of trying to boost the papers ratings. It is also add fuel to racism for those who want participate. Let's see how this story is presented? Hopefully one day we can move beyond this level of thinking and acting!!

    February 18, 2009 at 9:20 am |
  10. choonks

    I'm a boomer and it sounds absolutely scary. I call US elderly- throw away grandmas. Why don't the govt. sink its funds into at home care for the elderly... Allotments to family members to care for their aging parents, etc. Nursing homes are the worst, my ex-hubby worked there and told me he wouldn't put his worst enemy into one of those facilities. Americans must learn to invest time and energy into giving back to the parents who spend their lives loving and caring for us...they don't belong in a nursing home of strangers who really care nothing about them- their incentive is a pay-check not love- there's a big difference. We need to adjust our attitudes to the elderly and perhaps we'll see a difference- take a lesson from the Asian and Caribbean cultures where the elderly are respected and revered. JMHO

    February 18, 2009 at 9:08 am |
  11. Hannah D.

    I'm at the younger end of the scale (Obama is only 6 months older than me!), and I feel like I am going to be working for at least another 25, maybe thirty years.

    I've just gotten a very decent job after an extended period of unemployment (almost 2 years). It was interesting, going in to interviews (with my graduate degree) and be told that I was "overeducated".

    I think that persistance, keeping your head down, and above all swallowing your pride are the keys to getting out of this situation that we all find ourselves in.

    February 18, 2009 at 8:57 am |
  12. Michael C. McHugh

    I think that the Federal Reserve will have to transfer funds directly into the Social Security Trust Fund, if we are going to have any chance of paying for Medicare and old-age pensions for the baby Boomers. We cannot raise payroll taxes to the point where they bankrupt both businesses and workers, especially in this economy. Just the opposite, these should probably be lowered.

    If the Federal Reserve can write a blank check worth trillions of dollars to big banks and corporations, then it can also do something to help us save Social Security and Medicare.

    February 18, 2009 at 8:37 am |