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Retirement equation changing with baby boomers

In little more than the time it takes you to read this sentence, about eight seconds, another American will turn 62 years old.

About 2.9-million people will celebrate that birthday this year — a number that will only increase during the next 18 years, as the rest of the estimated 78-million boomers reach the age at which they can first apply for Social Security benefits.

But how many will apply just because they can? How many of our largest generation will decide to stop working and enter the undefined life stage termed "retirement''?

Sociologists, psychologists, economists, insurance companies, market researchers and futurists all have weighed in on the issue. They cite surveys that have numbers trotting off in various directions:

• In December, the respected Metlife Mature Market Institute said its poll of 1,000 61-year-olds showed 31 percent of them planned to retire and seek Social Security benefits at age 62; another 32 percent said they would wait until age 66 or later.

• The Conference Board, whose 2,000 members include some of America's largest corporations, reported in February on plans to re-shape retirement benefits. It estimated that "48 percent of current retirees (are) transitioning into retirement through part-time work, but mostly on their own. More people are expected to incorporate this work style in the future.''

• About eight in 10 Americans say they do not expect they will be able to retire until age 64 — a full six years after what they say would be their ideal retirement age. And, according to this poll reported in February by AXA Equitable Life Insurance Co., 55 percent expect to be working in some fashion during retirement.

• But 68 percent of those polled by insurance giant Transamerica planned to be working past traditional retirement age, the company said this month.

•A New York Times article in January, titled "When Retirement Collides With Reality,'' paraphrased a workforce expert as saying three-quarters of retirees now continue working in some way.

Is anyone actually going to quit working?

Before I go further: Yes, I know that not all LifeTimes readers are boomers. I'm not. But the fact is, their sheer numbers are influencing government policy, advertising strategies, even what new subdivision construction there still is.

In recognition of their numbers — and the old stereotype about hair color — the boomers have been dubbed the silver tsunami. Marketing expert Mary Furlong titled her 2007 book Turning Silver into Gold.

So, let's all pay attention to what's happening, because it will affect us.

The keep-working rationale cited by the pre-retirees summarizes popular sentiment about the boomers:

• If people retire, they often miss the camaraderie, the pride in productivity, the very structure of the workplace.

• Boomers not only see themselves as the can-do generation, they believe the community would be a lesser place without them.

• They consider themselves multitaskers who do not want to trade the work cubicle straight up for the golf cart but would rather straddle the worlds of commerce, leisure and, perhaps, volunteerism.

Those theories can be boiled down to what the boomers often have been criticized for — to each of them, it really is about "me, me, me.'' If they do not have to work full time, they will work on their terms.

Setting aside the current staggering economy, there are two large variables in this work/retire equation:

Will millions of boomers actually call it quits, thus forcing employers to lure them back with extra benefits rather than deal with a huge gap in the workforce? And, how many older adults have no financial choice but to continue working as long as they can?

The current issue of the AARP Bulletin notes: "In the next 10 years, the number of 55-plus workers is expected to grow at more than five times the rate of the overall workforce, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in December. In 2006, 29 percent of people in their late 60s were working, compared with 18.4 percent in 1985.''

That is a big increase, but the idea of full-time retirement is a fairly new concept. As the Atlantic magazine reported this year, "In 1950, almost half of all men over 65 were still working.''

In its February report cited above, the Conference Board noted that "seven out of 10 (older workers) want to continue working in retirement.'' Anna Rappaport, that organization's senior fellow on pensions and retirement, termed the period between full-time work and total retirement the "third age." She added:

"Policymakers, employers and individuals need to rethink how retirement fits into the way people live their lives."

As the authors of last year's incisive study Generation Ageless wrote, research "found one thing about boomers over and over again — their unwavering determination to not get old.''

Even if that means they are too young to retire.

• • •

As you'll learn from reading our cover story this month, one post-65 worker with no immediate plans to hang it up is the Energizer Bunny of TV sportscasters, Dick Vitale.

The grandfather of five lives across the Skyway in Lakewood Ranch and is never busier than during the current college basketball frenzy known as March Madness. On the cover, Vitale is shown bodysurfing in the crowd before the Duke-North Carolina game this month. He told the Times' Dave Scheiber:

"That was at Duke. I was just being a kid, and I had a blast. My little granddaughter, Sydney, was there and I said, 'Look at Pappa, what's Pappa doing?' ''

Just being "Dickie V.''

Robert N. Jenkins can be reached at
jenkins@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8496.

Retirement equation changing with baby boomers 03/24/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 5:31pm]
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