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BBHQ Boomer Essays:

Boomer Retirement: Part 1 – Hell No; We Won’t Go!

Our Boomer-In-Charge at BBHQ, Hershel Chicowitz, writes about boomer memories and current events... from a boomer’s perspective. He is sometimes funny, sometimes provocative, some-
times a little of each. We hope you get a kick out of our Boomer Essays.

The boomers, because of their age and experience, are among the best and most valuable in our work force. That’s not bragging; we’re no smarter than our kids. Simply because of our experience and judgment, we are the most valuable of the 150 million workers in the country. What do you suppose the reaction of the rest of the business world if one day (or one year) we all decided to quit?

This essay is available in its entirety to all visitors. Enjoy!

January, 2014:

Well, they're at it again: the media — shrieking about the 10,000 boomers that are retiring every day. That’s a little better than a few years ago, when NBC News reported that all 76 million of us were going to retire in one year. But even the 10,000 number is wrong. It’s a statistic improperly used that is both misleading and baseless.

So... I decided that it was time to replay the Boomer Retirement series I wrote a few years ago. “Listen up,” you media people. Learn something!

February, 2006:

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Old age should burn and rave at the close of day.
Rage rage against the dying of the light.
        - Dylan Thomas

Though the mainstream media is predicting the imminent collapse of society as the first boomers turn 60 this year, I see it completely differently. When have boomers ever gone “gentle into that good night”? I see boomers, metaphorically, taking to the streets, banging pots and pans, chanting defiantly, “Hell no, we won't go!” And that, my friends, is a good thing.

There are about 75 million baby boomers in the U.S. Fact. As the oldest boomers move into their 60s, the press has been reporting on the impact of boomer retirement. With few exceptions, their stories give the impression that all 75 million boomers will retire this year, causing the collapse of the American economy and the strangling of the Social Security system.

On July 5, NBC’s Bob Faw reported this on the “Nightly News”:

“Boomers are an economic gold mine: 76 million of them are expected to retire this year and they're forecasted to spend an average $36,000 apiece.”

the printed version of the story may still be here. (Though, after I wrote to MSNBC, commenting on the outrageously erroneous statement, they changed the wording in the story.)

It’s Armageddon! It’s a catastrophe! It’s the end of the world! We’re doomed! We're all gonna die! We're all gonna die!

To which I reply: Balderdash!

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Let’s take a look at some facts:

The oldest boomers, those born in 1946, turned 60 in 2006. But there are not 75 million of them. There are only about 3.4 million of them. And they are turning 60. Not 65; not 62; 60. The last time I checked, Social Security retirement benefits do not kick in until age 62 — at the earliest. For most boomers, it will be age 66. The “standard” retirement age has been 65 — not 62, and not 60. So the advent of the oldest boomers turning 60 is... pretty much nothing.

Here’s another fact: 2.8 million pre-boomers, those born in 1945, turned 60 in 2005. Did the world come to an end? Did you feel the earth shake? It was pretty much a non-event, wasn’t it? Then, why would you expect 2006 to be any different?

So once again, the press has tried to scare you into believing that nothing is something big and disastrous. “Fool me once....” huh?

The first boomers will not turn 65 until 2011. Fact. Another fact: in the next decade, only 18 million boomers will reach the standard retirement age of 65. That’s 18 million; not 75 million.

The Standard “Retirement Age”

When the Social Security system began, the government experts (now there’s an oxymoron for you, huh?) decided that retirement benefits would kick in at age 65. After all, those decrepit, obsolete, crippled old folks deserved a year or two on easy street, didn’t they?

Yes, a year or two. Life expectancy in the 1930s was only about 66 years. By the time most folks had lived that long, they were old and not necessarily in the best of shape. Their get up and go had gotten up and gone.

But even back then, a lot of people did not retire at age 65. Thank goodness, there was (and still is) no federal law mandating retirement at age 65 — or any age. (After all; this is not France, you know.) Many people continued to work well into their 70s — some, even beyond that. For many people, 65 was just a number, and had nothing to do with their usefulness.

Now, let’s fast-forward to 2011. The first boomers will turn 65 in 2011. Are they going to act like their parents and grandparents? Of course not. They never have; they never will. Though many boomers have let their bodies go to pot (literally and figuratively), the vast majority of boomers will still be healthy, active, functional, and useful at age 65. Will all 3.4 million of them retire in 2011? I strongly doubt it.

Surveys, including ours here at BBHQ, indicate that between a third and two-thirds of boomers expect to retire at age 65. But I believe that as that day comes closer, fewer and fewer of them will choose to bail out just because of a number on their birth certificate. I believe that when they hit 65, most of them will think, “Hey; I still feel like I am 40. I am in much better physical shape than my parents were at this age. And I’m a lot wiser than I was when I was 40. I'm making a good salary; I’m socking a lot of it away now that my kids are on their own. Why should I quit now? Frankly, I’d like to sock away a lot more while I still can. I have my eyes on some neat stuff that I want. Why, I’m getting full medical benefits here; I get 4 weeks vacation every year. Why would I give this up?”

And so they won’t.

And that’s a good thing — a very good thing.

Hell No; Please Don’t Go!

The mainstream press would have you believe that when 75 million boomers retire this year, it will create a drain on our social services that will cause catastrophic results. I believe that if 75 million boomers retired today (or in 2011), it would cause catastrophic results, but for a different reason.

I do not have accurate statistics on how many boomers are still in the job market, getting up and going to work every day. Certainly not 75 million. Some have died; a few are unemployed; yes, some have already retired; and some followed in their mother’s footsteps and took on the hardest job of all: staying home and raising kids. But let’s say that there are 50 million boomers still working for a living. That’s close enough for my purposes.

I do know that the entire U.S. workforce consists of about 150 million people. Let’s side with the press for a moment and suppose that one day, all 50 million working boomers got up and decided to retire. Fifty million people leaving the job market, all in the same day. Or, let’s make it a bit more realistic, all in the same year. The number of people employed in the U.S. drops from 150 million to 100 million — in one year. Now, which do you suppose would be more cataclysmic, 50 million more people eligible for Social Security, or a loss of one-third of the work force?

I should remind you that the boomers, because of our age and experience, are among the best and most valuable in our work force. That’s not bragging; we’re no smarter than our kids. (Though I suspect we can spell, read, write and compute better than most of them — that’s not my point here.) Simply because of our experience and judgment, we are the most valuable of the 150 million workers in the country. What do you suppose the reaction of the rest of the business world if one day (or one year) we all decided to quit?

Well, they’d be beggin’ us to come back, wouldn’t they? They’d offer all kinds of incentives to keep us from retiring, wouldn’t they? Because the simple truth is that the business world could not survive if we all retired one year.

Now, my point here is not to tout our value or brag about how important we are. We are important primarily because of our numbers, that’s all. My point is to counter the scare tactics of the press and shed some light and realism into the situation. We’re not going to retire this year; and we are not going to retire when we turn 65.

The boomers are not going to “go gentle onto that good night.” And if they began to do so in large numbers, our society would provide incentives to keep them from disrupting things. That just makes sense.

Besides, if we all did retire tomorrow, what the heck would we do?

I'll address that issue in part 2 of this series, “What Will We Do?”:

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