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March 2012: Will We Ever Retire?

In “Living Happily Ever After,” published in the March 2012 issue of School Nutrition, author Mark Ward, Sr., PhD, notes that while Baby Boomers can look forward to healthier aging than previous generations, their numbers are likely to put a strain on the healthcare costs in the coming decades. Ward uncovered additional statistics that will affect how members of this generation will spend their golden years.

Unlike America’s first Baby Boomer, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, who admits she was fortunate to retire early, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 75% of Boomers believe 65 is too young to retire; most envisioned retirement at age 72. When the youngest Boomers turn 65 in 2029, Medicare is projected to cover more than 80 million people. For that reason, 80% of Boomers say Medicare is not secure and 43% believe they cannot depend on it forever. The Pew researchers dubbed Boomers “The Gloomiest Generation.”

Surprisingly to some—but perhaps not to Boomers—the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that persons aged 55 and above are the only age group since the 2008 recession to actually increase their numbers—by 12%, or 3.1 million people—in the workforce. By contrast, the number of persons aged 25 to 54 fell 6.5% for a drop of 6.5 million workers. Altogether, 40.3% of people 55 and older are now working or seeking work, up from 38.9% at the start of the recession.

Most Boomers entered the workforce in the Seventies and Eighties, just as a lifetime job at the same company became untenable, along with its opportunity to build toward a secure employer-sponsored retirement. In 1983, reports the Center for Retirement Research, nearly two-thirds of workers were covered by a traditional “defined benefit” pension plan; by 2007 the percentage had shrunk to just 17%, while about two-thirds were instead covered by “defined contribution” plans such as 401(k) accounts.

As a result, older adults are more vulnerable to economic downturns—including the 61% of persons aged 50 and above, who reported in a recent AARP survey that they had lost some of their savings due to the recession. Yet perhaps Kirschling is representative of the Baby Boom Generation when she confesses to being “disappointed but not defeated.” She points to her generation’s resiliency and believes Boomers can weather the storm.