Since they came of age in the 1960's, members of the Baby Boom Generation have dominated American culture. Their sheer numbers have created sweeping changes in the workplace, the economy, and in family life. Now the first wave of Boomers is heading towards retirement. Projections are that by the year 2035, seventy million Baby Boomers will be age 65 or older. What will older Boomers demand of government, of the marketplace - and of their children? As we continue our series, "When I'm Sixty-Four: Aging in America," 90.3's Karen Schaefer brings us this report.
Karen Schaefer- We tend to think of Boomers as the 'now' generation: want it now, buy it now, worry about paying for it later. Except for the recession of the 1980's, Boomers have lived through some of the last century's most prolific periods of economic growth. Nonetheless, John Rother, Director of Legislation and Public Policy for the American Association of Retired Persons or AARP in Washington, D.C., says the Baby Boom Generation doesn't have it easy.
John Rother- "Well, the parents of the Boomer generation fought World War Two and had the GI Bill and a lot of government help in housing and education, health care. Boomers...haven't had that experience of being helped out as a generation..."
KS- Throughout their lives, Boomers have faced fierce competition for education, jobs, and other resources. Rother says the need for two-income families, frequent job changes, and the gradual loss of pension plans have all contributed to Boomers' record high levels of personal debt and low levels of saving.
JR- "We find that there's a good chunk of the Boomer generation - maybe about a third - that are pretty well off and can look forward to retirement with confidence, another third in the middle that are sort of on the margin, and then a bottom third who haven't really done anything about preparing themselves for the future and who are probably facing some tough times."
KS- Boomers are unlikely to receive much retirement help from government. Many are worried that the overtaxed Social Security system will collapse before they can collect their retirement benefits. But Michael Bond, Professor of Finance at Cleveland State University, says Social Security was never meant to replace personal savings. And he says even with reforms, Social Security benefits - which currently replace about 40% of the average person's full-time pay - are likely to drop lower.
Michael Bond- "Over time, because of changing demographics, you now have a situation where you had 3.4 workers paying for every beneficiary. And with the current demographic situation that we have, by the year 2030, you're going to be looking at two taxpayers paying for every beneficiary...Nobody needs to think there won't be pain here, but the system is not going to collapse."
Paul Alandt- "To think that Social Security's going to take care of all their needs in their old age, that's something they need to get rid of and they need to start planning to take care of themselves."
KS- Paul Alandt is director of the Golden Age Centers of Greater Cleveland. He says paying for health care will also continue to be primarily the responsibility of the individual.
PA- "I think one of the biggest misconceptions that people have is that government provides long term care in our country...the Medicaire system, which everybody's qualified for at age 65, takes care of you fine when you have an acute illness, but when you...have to suffer...over a long period of time, there are really no good government and I doubt if there are going to be good government programs to deal with that."
KS- But in the marketplace, Boomers are already demanding - and getting - a host of new services for themselves and their parents, services ranging from fitness programs to new choices in retirement living. Maggie Stark is director of admissions at Kendal at Oberlin, a continuing care retirement community.
Maggie Stark- "They have to have choices...Choices are big...Currently our contract is a life care contract. You pay in and you're taken care of for life...Communities like Kendal are going to have to have alternatives. They going to have to have more of a menu selection for people as far as services."
KS- While few insurance companies now offer long-term care policies, Stark says the demand is likely to grow. So will the demand for in-home services and new technologies like universal design and Internet connections that will allow older Boomers to remain in their homes longer.
MS- People are aging in place, they're staying in their homes longer...People who live in their homes, they're going to have to make changes in order to live safely."
KS- One of the biggest issues Boomers face is the fact of smaller, two-income families. John Rother of the AARP says Baby Boomers won't be able to demand as much from their children as their parents did.
John Rother- "Perhaps the biggest change is in the role of women, because so many women are now working and have careers and aren't really available to provide the full-time care giving that maybe the previous generation was used to...As a result, there are fewer people available as children to do the care giving and so, that's going to put more pressure on the older generation to find other sources to provide help when help is needed. You throw in the greater distances that children live further and further away from their parents, we've got a really big challenge as a society how to respond to all that."
KS- While Boomers will need to shoulder much of the costs of their old age themselves, experts say the diversity of the Boomer Generation will trigger more choices in retirement and health care than ever before. And because of their numbers, Boomers should be able to create the marketplace demand for the services they need, as long as they have the money to pay for them.
For INFOHIO, I'm Karen Schaefer in Cleveland.