Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rulers of the Burbs

There was a time when living in the burbs meant dodging tricycles, strollers and happy kids playing in the streets. That picture may have changed dramatically if you look at 2010 census data.

We know that boomers are ascendant as a demographic all across the nation, but the suburbs are graying a lot faster than the cities. Four in ten suburban residents are age 45 or older. That’s up 34% from a decade earlier. In the cities, only 35% are over age 45.

The political implications are quite interesting, as it used to be assumed that suburban voters were almost monolithic when it came to voting on issues related to education and kids. Soon, these suburban parents will be duking it out (rhetorically, in the voting booth that is) with boomers who are looking out for their own well-being.

So now we have the first generation to grow up the suburbs deciding to stay put. For the most part, they are not headed to retirement meccas such as Florida or Arizona. At one time, many boomers may have assumed that they would be off the good life somewhere where there’s never any ice or snow, but the dream retirement scenario has hit the wall. It may have to do with affordability or it just may be that they’ve put down roots and don’t want to leave the familiar behind. Either way, they are staying in the burbs and that fact alone will bring a dramatic cultural shift to how we perceive the suburbs and deal with the drama of competing interests clashing over dwindled resources.

What boomers may not be prepared for, however, is the lack of services and preparation that is typical for the suburban communities in which they live. It may not be so easy to remain independent in their homes when they hit their 70s or 80s.

The political clout of boomers and their traditional high voter turn-out is going to be formidable. Older Americans currently represent 53 percent of voting-age adults, so there could be a long, drawn out tug of war over how tax dollars are doled out and who has the loudest voice in determining the priorities for community services.

Let’s just hope that we can all get along together.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Grand Life

Not surprisingly, boomers have a book to turn to as they approach or attain grandparenthood. Allan and Kathryn Zullo, have written A Boomer’s Guide to Grandparenting because the image most boomers have of themselves is “nothing like the stereotypical gray-haired grandmas and grandpas who sat in rocking chairs, baked cookies, whittled toys and told stories of the ‘good old days.’" They also point out that the average age of a first-time grandparent in the U.S. is 48.

I guess hearing yourself called grandpa or grandma must come as a shock. Some celebrities recently revealed that they have resisted the moniker. Goldie Hawn is called Glam-Ma and Blythe Danner insists that grandkids Apple and Moses (I know....WTF) call her Woof. I don’t get it either.

I understand that it’s a life-changing event and it must also spark a reevaluation of one’s self-identity. If you’re still working and lead an active social life, making room and time for bonding with your grandkids becomes an important consideration (hence, the guide.....boomers love guides). And if you really want to feel inadequate, author Allan Zullo writes, “What can be more important than playing a major role in the life of a child? If you don’t get involved with your grandchildren right now, what will pass you by is your opportunity to make a positive impact in their lives.”

That’s right. If you screw this up, the grands are screwed as well. Apparently, studies show that children with strong relationships with their grandparents are more confident and well-adjusted in their lives. Sounds awfully subjective to me (how does anyone measure confidence and well-adjustment?), but I’ll grant you that grandparents can have a positive influence on the grands.

Still, I can’t help being a bit skeptical of these type of guides and the chapter titles did not allay my anxiety. Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows; Talking ‘Bout Our Generation; Good Vibrations, I’ve Got to Be Me; The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face; Bridge Over Trouble Water. Is this some kind of Oldies radio show or a guide to grandparenting?

As is often the case, one of the Amazon book reviews may have hit the nail on the head.

“I'd hoped that A Boomer's Guide to Grandparenting would offer an overview of such changes, but aside from a page and a half of useful information, it is, unfortunately, a series of anecdotes about how the new generation of richer, healthier, and all-around cooler grandparents feel about their grandchildren. (Predictably, they feel about the same as grandparents have always felt -- thrilled.) “

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Breaking Up Is Not So Hard To Do

Boomer break-ups in the news have most likely given many boomers pause. What causes boomers to go splitsville after 25, 30 or more years? Who wasn’t a little shocked to hear that Al and Tipper threw in the towel after 40 years?

Maria and Arnold? That’s easy. He was known as a serial groper and she must have been in denial about that from day one. But Al and Tipper dated in college and represented the quintessential couple that lasts---until they didn’t any longer. Did they really come to that place where they wanted to go in different directions? They just had enough of each other and thought it was time they went their separate ways to pursue separate ambitions? If it could happen to them....

The conventional wisdom is that boomers are used to getting do-overs and second chances, so there’s no reason not to go for it and pursue their dreams in life’s second half. A Pew Research Center study found that baby boomers were less inclined to remain in an unhappy marriage than their adult children-- by a 66% to 54% margin.

We’re reinventing retirement, so it should come as no surprise that we are taking another look at how to achieve the happiness we want later in life. Not ones to drag our carcasses over the finish line, just to prove that we could do it, boomers apparently have something better in mind. Some observers see a parallel to the way boomers led the way into a sexual revolution.

Who’s at risk here? College-educated couples who married young head the list, followed by unhappy couples who strived to produce happy kids. Then there are the “what-happened” couples who don’t know where the love went. Just behind them are really old people who are plain fed up. Last, but definitely not least demographically, are the trophy hunters-- men and women who just think they can do better than what they’ve got.

Married couples have most likely always been challenged by the “grown apart” phenomenom. The only difference now is that many baby boomers are clearly not going to accept this as the status quo. Once each partner is less vested in the other, boomers are more inclined to break the chain and seek the happiness they feel they deserve.

As I’ve said many times before (thank you Harvey Fierstein), “Is that so wrong?”

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Retirement Envy

I feel like I’m living amid a sea of retirees. Probably because I am. Retirees have packed schedules of trips, concerts, museum visits, volunteer activities, yoga classes, long breakfasts, longer lunches, cocktails at 5 pm, hiking, biking, skiing, and more. It’s exhausting watching them wear themselves down to the nub while I have the freedom to work nine or ten hours a day.

Am I jealous? Of course. Every time I hear someone talk about being able to retire soon, I feel like I’m losing another comrade. What do you mean you’ll be able to go wherever you want whenever you want? Can you handle the stress of not knowing what you’re going to do when you wake up each day? Do you think it’s fair to flaunt this freedom in front of your friends who are still pushing the millstone in circles? Do you? Huh?

A little piece of my soul is crushed each time someone announces their retirement. Really. I’ve got the MRIs to prove it. I’m happy for them, but miserable for me. I love my work, but I’ve had a job since I was twelve years old, and the idea of getting out of the harness seems really appealing to me at this point in life. What would I do? Keep working part-time at what I enjoy doing, but with the knowledge that I don’t have to do it all day, every day. That would be a nice start. I can see that day coming, but it still seems like a long way off, like a tall tree on a distant hilltop. I’ll get there one day, if I keep walking, one foot in front of another, step by step, inch by inch, day by day -- okay, this is killing me.

Just promise me that if you’re planning on retiring soon, you’ll keep it to yourself. Pretend you’re still working but you’re on flex-time. Run out and do all the things you’ve always wanted to do -- just don’t tell me about it. What I don’t know can’t make me feel any more miserable.

And whatever you do, don’t even think about blogging about retirement --- at least not before I get to do that.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

They Really Like Us

Grey matter or grey eminence, whatever you call it, boomers are still valued in the workplace (at least according to an AP-LifeGoesStrong.com poll).

61% of the boomers surveyed said that their age was not an issue in the workplace. In fact, 25% thought it was an asset. Over half these boomers are working for bosses younger than themselves.

Age discrimination was a non-issue for 82 percent who said they never personally experienced it in the workplace. Twenty-four percent of unmarried women reported they had experienced it. Typically, the age discrimination that was cited was being passed over for a raise, promotion, or other career advancement.

For those 50 and over, there was a sense that younger co-workers were turning to them for advice and counsel and a third of those surveyed felt their employers were treating them with more respect.

But the respect does not make up for the insecurity they feel. One in four report that they can’t retire any time soon and the same percentage say they don’t have enough money saved for retirement. So it would appear that boomers are feeling the love but respect won’t pay the bills.

About two thirds of those surveyed say they will work at least part-time past their retirement age because they will need the money or to supplement what savings and social security will net them. Almost a third say they will work just to stay busy.

Much has been made of this trend for boomers to work longer, but it’s a trend that predates the big boom in retirees. Women in particular have been staying in the workforce longer and with fewer manufacturing jobs that required physical strength, many people are opting to work well past retirement. The increase in the Social Security retirement age and the desire to hang on to employer paid health care benefits are also big factors.

Inevitably, some will argue that boomers are being selfish (what? again?) by not stepping aside to make room for the next generation of managers. But the facts would seem to indicate that boomers are perfectly happy to work for managers younger than themselves and/or work reduced work week hours, so perhaps this issue will be easily diffused. We may soon see boomers standing on corners with signs that say “Will work for kids.”

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Surprise Party For Boomer Offspring

You’ve seen those bumper stickers that say the driver is retired and spending their kids’ inheritance. It may turn out to have more truth than humor in it.

A recent Bank of America survey of wealthy boomers (they defined wealthy as having more than $3 million in investable assets....What? That leaves you out? Me too.), found that boomers who have made their fortune don’t think it’s important to leave an inheritance to their children. And even those that want to leave something for the kids have not even begun to plan for the transfer of their wealth when they die.

Could it be that we think we’ll live forever, so why plan now? Or could it be that boomers have other things on their minds. The survey found that 70% of wealthy boomers considered travel to be important to them. 46% were going to start a new business or keep working and 55% were planning to do volunteer work.

But what about the kids? 52% of those surveyed have not talked to their kids about their plans to pass on any monies in the event of their death. If that sounds high to you, it will also surprise you that 56% have not documented their personal property and 51% have not legally proscribed how they want their assets distributed among their kids and charities when they’re gone.

So what’s going on here? Never one to miss an opportunity to make totally unsubstantiated assumptions, I’ll take my shot at it. It seems to me that the baby boomer generation spending my kids inheritance does not feel the same obligation to leave as much as they can for their kids. It may have a lot to do with the changing perception of retirement as less of a time to relax (the shuffleboard syndrome) and more of a time to pursue ambitions that could not be fulfilled during their worklife. Encore careers, travel, and contributing something to the community have perhaps become the new priorities. Without a doubt, less wealthy boomers may not have anything left to hand off to their kids. As for the rich boomers-- they can will their car to their offspring to fight over--the one with the “I’m Spending My Kids’ Inheritance” license plate.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.