for retiring boomers, or we bust
By Jon Talton, Columnist
The Arizona Republic
Thursday, December 15, 2005
The White House Conference on Aging, a once-a-decade
gabfest, has begun. Considering that the Bush
administration did little to adopt the 9/11 commission
findings to make the country safer from terrorism, it's
unlikely much will be done to make the country safer for
retiring baby boomers.
Yet the aging of 78 million people born between 1946 and
1964 will change everything.
While it's foolish to stereotype or generalize about such a
large generation, some issues are undeniable and ominous.
It's often said that the boomers will be the beneficiaries
of the "greatest intergenerational transfer of wealth in
history." I guess we all know some fortunate son or
daughter who doesn't have to work too hard as a result. But
wait . . .
Most boomers weren't so fortunate in choosing their
parents. Mary Elizabeth Hughes and Angela O'Rand of Duke
University found that poverty and income and educational
inequality are severe among this generation. According to
their research, Blacks as a whole are no better off relative
to Whites than their parents and grandparents.
Meanwhile, the most recent Federal Reserve Survey of
Consumer Finances showed that 19 percent of households where
the main earner is between the age of 47 and 64 could expect
to retire in poverty. Only 57 percent could expect to
replace half their income in retirement, down from 70
percent in 1989.
Also, think about this great transfer. Most of it isn't
coming from the super-rich. It's coming from parents who
worked in the great American economy of the 1960s and 1970s,
with secure jobs, pensions, health care and often with union
In other words, they accumulated this wealth to pass on in
the kind of jobs we're glibly told can't survive in America.
A minority of boomers will see how far Mom and Dad's money
goes into the next generations. It may go far indeed,
considering Republican policies increasingly favor those who
make money off investments over those who work for wages.
The rest of my generation may face tougher times.
A huge cohort of debt-laden boomers is barreling into their
40s and 50s with inadequate savings. For many, 401(k) plans
will not be a very good replacement for pensions. They will
work longer than their parents, whether they wish to or not,
until illness overtakes them. Too bad the American health
care system is breaking down.
None of this scary stuff is inevitable. But changing course
will require new policies aimed at bolstering the middle
Is growth-drunk Arizona paying attention?
Paying attention, say, to the looming Hispanic retirement
challenge? In a survey by the Retirement Security Project,
43 percent of Hispanic workers described their knowledge of
retirement saving as "knowing nothing," compared with 12
percent of all workers.
An even bigger elephant lounges in the state's living room.
How will our retiree-dependent economy fare if things go
badly for boomer retirees?
I already question how many of my generation want to live in
a Sun City-like place. But will we just hope to cherry-pick
the sweet side of the growing retiree income inequality?
It's a clever idea. Oops. There's that large low-wage
workforce that services the swells in their resorts,
McMansions and golf courses. They're getting older, too.
And they won't be buying at the Biltmore.
Reach Jon Talton at
email@example.com or (602)