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Plan for your retirement before someone else does

Just as riders in the London Underground are admonished to "mind the gap" when debarking from London's subway, it seems necessary to warn baby boomers that there is a gap developing in America, nearly as treacherous as the space between the train and the platform.

Most surveys reveal that the majority of boomers have an aversion to retirement and many say they intend to virtually work until they drop. Fearing idle time and not knowing what to do with themselves, the middle-agers say they do not intend to take it easy.

This brings us to the fact that there is a growing gap between middle-agers expressing their desire to work forever at what they do and being forced to continue to work at something they may not want to do.

The main engine of this gap is evident all around us. The fact is that middle-aged workers are not very much wanted or valued by many employers across the nation. Recently the Washington Post bought out the services of many of its most talented writers and editors by offering them incentives for early retirement. This is happening at many companies around the nation.

Where I worked at a university, most with whom I worked before I voluntarily retired early have been bought out so the university can hire younger, cheaper workers. And virtually all of those colleagues are now earning far less than they did when they were employed by the university.

They must now seek alternative, lesser-paying employment as they struggle toward the traditional age of retirement.

Is the government helping with this problem of the employment gap? On the contrary, the younger one is, the longer one will have to work to achieve full Social Security payments. Furthermore, since many baby boomers are retiring more or less involuntarily, the Social Security payments will be more modest because of more modest salaries after they have left their jobs prematurely.

So we have a conjunction of unfortunate events which militate against older workers. What is a person to do?

I think there are several things. The first and most important is to keep one's debts low and to live modestly without cramping your lifestyle too much.

The second thing to do is actually save money every month, regardless of income. Lack of debt and actual savings give a world of freedom to people.

The third thing to do is build some flexibility as to what you are willing to do for a living. It is possible that you may be doing something for a living very different later in life from what you did earlier.

All of this is easier said than done, but most things are.

If you do not like the idea of retirement, that is all well and good, but don't be too surprised if someone someday steps up to you and says, "Smile. You're on involuntary retirement."

Mind the gap. Prepare for its possibility. And face the fact that age discrimination is one of the easiest biases for employers to get away with.

_ Douglas Spangler, a writer and former university administrator, lives in Palm Harbor. Guest columnists write their own opinions on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper.