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.