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Baby boomers aren’t sailing into cushy retirements

Resource type: News

The Orange County Register |


It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

For baby boomers trickling toward retirement, these were going to be the golden years. The good life earned after toiling in some version of the 20th-Century vineyards.

A big percentage of boomers envisioned no work at all. Others — more purposeful — planned to seek volunteer jobs giving back; the Peace Corps, maybe, or helping homeless people.

The Third Third some called it, expecting the boomers to chart new lifestyle options by living a third of their predicted long lives outside the routine place called work.

But some amazing events have turned this Yellow Brick Road into a murky swampland.

First, boomers’ parents are living longer. Trillions of inheritance dollars evaporated as oldsters spent freely and lived much longer than anticipated. The funny RV bumper sticker “I’m Spending My Children’s Inheritance” turned out to be real.

Then, boomers forgot to save. In June 2008, McKinsey & Co. said two-thirds of older boomers had too much debt and the lowest savings rate (10%) of any generation. That’s not enough money to retire, they concluded, so the only solution is to keep working.

No worries. Eight in 10 boomers told AARP they planned to work at least part-time and others envisioned starting their own businesses.

But in August 2008, the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University revealed that suddenly workers are more anxious about jobs and the economy.

And in December, AARP reported a “fragile economy threatens the financial security of all Americans,” particularly workers 45 and older who have seen a more than 55% increase in unemployment and those 55 and older who have experienced a 65% increase.

“I tell older workers this is not a good time to quit your job,” says Marc Freedman, head of the nonprofit Civic Ventures,

He’s serious. Freedman is the author of Prime Time and Encore, books that examine the ways boomers will change society by working longer in careers that give back.

A few months ago, he was able to forecast up to a million openings in the nonprofit sector alone. Today, Freedman talks about “a pretty dire labor market — with one bright spot. The most recession-resistant fields remain education, health care and the federal government. So there are still some opportunities, even in this downturn.

“We’re telling people in the long run, the prospect of working in these fields and the nonprofit field still looks promising. But this is probably not the time to leave your job and go into one of these areas. It is, however, the time to consider volunteering in an area you might like to work in one day or even going back to school for some retraining.”

Meanwhile, “tighten your belts,” suggests Linda Barlow, a financial planner in Santa Ana, Calif.

And remember, nothing lasts forever. Not even the bad times.

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Global Impact:

United States


AARP, Civic Ventures, retirement, senior citizens