Just because it’s in the Times doesn’t mean it’s good.
Dan Barry”s article in the Dec. 31 edition is a great example of that. He used the milestone of first boomers reaching retirement age to lambast them for being self-absorbed and focused on entitlement.
I’d be willing to live with his assessment if he had support for the claim. But to reach that conclusion, he relied his own impeccable insight, a book written by an Oklahoma history professor published in 2004, and a Pew Research study from June, 2008. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. What the hell happened? (The best part of the piece was the 305 mostly more informed comments it generated in just a few days.)
As the Pew report he quotes concludes, “Boomers are a big, complicated generation.” But there is another force at work that Barry totally missed. Things are changing and relying on information that old was a bad idea. And a disservice to the generation and to the country.
On Jan 2, an article on the same subject by Ellen Goodman appeared in syndication. She’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, too. She may be smarter about this stuff than Barry because she retired earlier this year and is looking at it first hand. She’s read a lot of the more recent books by leading experts on the subject.
And she came to a much different conclusion. She gets it. There are two very different opinions about older age right now. One sees the huge potential for giving back and solving problems in those stepping out of the fulltime workforce. The other focuses on the “glum” generation that Pew reported on–a generation focused on how to make it on what they have to work with–slim employment opportunties because of ageism and the shaky state of Social Security and Medicare.
This is a paradign shift of the first order. It’s long overdue. The version of retirement we are currently trying to use was already ineffective in 1960. Most likely, the kind of generation boomers are will make the outcome better rather than worse. Since they became old enough to take a stand, Barry’s “self-absorbed” generation challenged the unfairness of racial segregation, the legitimacy of a war we probably should not have been in, and the right of the good ol’ boys to deny women the chance to do challenging work and decide what their bodies will and won’t do.
Ageism is now another unfairness that needs to be addressed. The way this society marginalizes older people is criminal. It is also a tragic waste of resources that could be applied to many many problems we face as a nation, in business, and in our communities. My guess is that boomers will step up to this one, too.
Entitlements are only an issue if empowerment is denied. The members of the largest generation as well as those who follow will have a better world if we get rid of the idea that once people are old enough to retire, they’re not capable of contributing anymore. (According to Penn State’s Seattle Longitudinal Study, verbal ability doesn’t even peak until your 60’s!) We’re turning people out to pasture who still want to work, and pretending we’re doing them a favor.
As early as 2005–before the financial meltdown, 83% of the 2400+ boomers in a Merrill Lynch study reported they wanted to work in retirement. They are glum because finding work when you get to that point is extremely difficult. They support aging parents and boomerang kids and still have to deal with the prospect of being replaced by someone “younger.”
That this group gets labled as “self absorbed” baffles me. They make noise about things they don’t think are right, but it wasn’t just black boomers who protested racism. It wasn’t just the guys who didn’t want to get drafted who protested the Vietnam War.
Anything large creates its own weather, be it Mount Rainier or the rocket hangar at Kennedy Space Center. The boomer generation does change things, because it is BIG. Hopefully, it will help move us to a smarter, more meaningful way to live the last third of our lives. And then all those who come after who are griping about those self-absorbed boomers can reap the benefit of that, too.