The Baby Boomer Number Game

US News

There are 75 million baby boomers who are on the verge of retirement. For the next twenty years, an average of 10,000 people each day will reach age 65, which has historically been the retirement phase of life.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people age 65 to 84 in the U.S. grew by 3.3 million. While 13 percent of Americans are currently age 65 or older, that proportion will jump to 18 percent by 2030. The current 40 million senior citizens will balloon to 89 million by 2050.

These numbers and their impact are awe-inspiring and a bit frightening. Baby boomers entering retirement age will dramatically change today's business and lifestyle landscape. Baby boomers may stay in the workforce longer than their parents did, both because they need the money and they're not ready to leave behind fulfilling careers. And when they finally do retire, their need for health care and assisted living could permanently alter what retirement living arrangements look like for generations to come.

Work. Americans didn't always aim to retire early. Back in 1880, 78 percent of men over age 64 were still in the workforce. In 1934, the official retirement age of 65 was introduced. And by 1990, only 30 percent of men over 64 remained in the workforce. Now the retirement age is increasing again. In today's era of economic uncertainty, many would-be retirees will need to keep working to make ends meet and be considered fortunate if they can find or hold on to jobs.

Delaying retirement will certainly improve the finances of individual baby boomers, but could also lead to intergenerational conflict. Older employees who stay on the job longer than expected could be perceived as standing in the way of younger workers who are in search of their chance to contribute to society and make a living. And senior citizens who take up positions far beneath their experience levels could compete with students and recent graduates looking for a first job.

As more seniors stay active in or re-enter the workforce, older workers will increasingly report to younger supervisors, which can also create tension if both parties don't learn to effectively communicate with one another. Without sensitivity on both sides and a willingness to work together, conflict is likely and the welfare of the company could be jeopardized.

Living arrangements. Once they leave the workforce behind, aging baby boomers will face decisions regarding their living arrangements that will impact family and friends. In the ideal situation, baby boomers will remain able to cope with the responsibilities of home ownership, take care of themselves, and live safely where they are. But they are unlikely to remain healthy enough and sufficiently independent to go it alone indefinitely.

As they continue to age, a growing percentage of baby boomers will reach the point where they cannot completely fend for themselves. At that time, moving in with family may be an option. But challenges are bound to arise when family members must adjust their lifestyle to incorporate the quirks and habits of new residents. Parents may face scrutiny in how they raise their children, with unwanted input from the grandparents. And the physical requirements involved in caring for seniors can tax the patience and finances of the rest of the family.

When boomers require more attention than can be effectively provided by family members, nursing homes and extended care facilities will need to be considered. For families already challenged due to the economy and demands of raising a family, this can be brutal. Assisted living facilities that provide hands-on personal care for those who cannot live alone, but do not require the full-time coverage provided by a nursing home, cost an average of $3,261 per month, according to a Genworth Financial survey. Nursing homes with semi-private rooms are $5,790 per month, while those with private rooms ring in at $6,390 monthly.

Baby boomers changed the world in their youth and as working adults. Their impact continues at a relentless pace and will likely change our notions about retirement as millions move into retirement age.

Dave Bernard is not yet retired but has begun his due diligence to plan for a fulfilling retirement. With a focus on the non-financial aspects of retiring, he shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only the Beginning.

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