New Boomer reality: From “shop ’til you drop” to “work ’til you drop”

A generation that spanned the “shop ’til you drop” decades of constant economic growth and burgeoning consumer debt is now looking at a tougher era of “work ’til you drop.”

John Rogers of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! News, here) examines the lot of some 78 million American Baby Boomers who have experienced “the misfortune of approaching retirement age at a time when stock market crashes diminished their 401(k) nest eggs, companies began eliminating defined benefit pensions in record numbers and previously unimagined technical advances all but eliminated entire job descriptions from travel agent to telephone operator.”

The message from job experts: Keep working if you can. For example, Rogers shares these observations from Ed Lawler of USC’s business school:

With unions no longer in a strong position to fight for benefits like pensions, with jobs disappearing or going overseas, and with Gen Xers and even younger Millennial Generation members coveting their jobs, Lawler warns this is no time for boomers to quit and allow the skills they’ve spent a lifetime building to atrophy.

“My advice is above all don’t retire,” he says. “If you like your job at all, hold onto it. Because getting back in in this era is essentially impossible.”

Lawler’s advice, while eminently sensible, raises issues. For example, workers in physically demanding jobs may find their bodies giving way even if they’re not in a position to retire. Also, the longer workers stay in the workforce beyond traditional retirement age, the fewer the opportunities will be for new entrants to the labor market.

In sum, I don’t think we have any easy answers to these ongoing challenges. The days of painless economic options, if we ever truly had them, are gone. But I do hope we face our choices before panic and desperation set in, because if we wait until that point, it will get very, very scary. While I don’t think the situation will be as bad as what we’re seeing in Greece right now, we should look there for some cautionary tales.

Related posts

Labor Day Reader 2011: Stormy weather for workers (2011)

Apocalypse tomorrow: The debt ceiling crisis and Social Security (2011)

When Boomers retire (or try to): America’s coming train wreck (2010)

Jobs, Unemployment, and the Great Recession (2010)

4 responses

  1. This whole work until you die notion is so disturbing, not to mention unrealistic for the majority of workers.

    I am watching several friends deal with the many illnesses that begin to hit many folks in their 50’s. Neither they nor I can imagine that they will be able to work until 62, let alone 66 or 70. The media paints far tooo rosy of a picture of all older people being able to work into their 70’s, not with many workweeks hitting the 50 to 60 hour mark, not to mention vacation time and sick time being stripped away for many/most.

    We should follow the benefit structure of the US Military. With 20 years in the service you can retire at half pay. With 30 years in you can receive 3/4 of your pay. Health insurance is provided almost free ( you pay little or nothing for it). The militrary has mandatory retirement and an up or out system and this has the benefit of ensuring that room is always available for people to move in and up and then out. So if you enter the militrary at 18 — you can retire at 38 at half pay, 28 at 3/4 pay with full COLA’s for life and the all important health insurance for life. Then if you want to continue working you can but you don’t have to, and more importantly, you don’t have to work full time.

    I retired in my late 50’s ( I am one of the few lucky ones that still has a small defined benefit pension). My health is better and my life is far better than it was when I was putting in 50 hour work weeks.

  2. Pingback: Retirement Advice: Just Say No « Red Rock Crossing

  3. This unfortunate reality is the result of the shift from defined pensions and the lack of controls and ethics in the financial markets. One of the biggest concerns that I have is that the young workers have even less of a job market to compete in. I think there’s a need for new blood in the economy so that we have a chance to compete in the world markets. That said, I still work some, part time. With inflation, this helps me to maintain my nest egg a bit longer. I also enjoy the stimulus of the work that I do. I would really hate to be forced economically to work full time till I drop. It is more and more difficult for me to work a full day every year, and my work isn’t physically demanding. I wonder how we can return to defined benefits for all workers? I believe that the Union movement is the only way that can happen.

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