The Association of U S West Retirees



We plan 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 representation.

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 class.

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 or (602) 444-8464.