by Andrea Puckett
When I was a child, I never really thought about what the world would be like when my parents, baby boomers, either retired or needed extra medical attention. However, a few months ago, these were two issues that I was confronted with.
My father was born in 1946 at the peak of the baby boomer generation. He has always been my pillar of strength both physically and emotionally but in November he fell down a mountain and that fall would change our world forever. He was out deer hunting, something that he has done every deer hunting season since his childhood, and got his foot tangled in a tree root and fell down the mountain. He broke several vertebrae and was hospitalized for four weeks. Without warning, my pillar of strength was broken. Laying in the hospital waiting to have surgery was one of the first times in all of his 59 years that he had time to reflect and actually think about what it was like to get older.
He reflected back upon a good life but a life where he had been a slave to work. This was the first time that I ever heard him actually say out loud that it might be time for him to retire from being an accountant. His work was the way that he had defined himself. He expected a lot out of his staff but only the 110% that he put in. When he found himself broken, he didn’t know how to define himself and he was afraid that what he had spent so much time building would be taken all away. Also, he didn’t know how to be the helpless person who couldn’t even use the bathroom on his own because he had always been the helper not the helpless.
Until, I saw my father going through this emotional crisis I never really understood what it meant for elderly having to deal with depression. Unfortunately, issues such as what to do with the mass amount of the baby boomer generation that are getting older and will have health issues are concerns that will be very much a reality. What do we do until the mass retires and their health fails? Do we invest in companies that produce Viagra, Diabetes, and Cancer medicines or do we make a personal investment in spending time with our family to help ease this transition to a different stage in life?
Retirement of the baby boomer generation does mean that more jobs will open up but how do we replace the skills that a lifetime of experience teaches. Also, now that people are living longer can the baby boomer generation financially afford to retire? For my father, issues of retirement and depression are very real. From a distance, retirement looks very appealing but when you are faced with making that decision it can open up a war between identify conflict and the price of self worth.
There is one population that is ignored when we think of retirement, which is the immigrant older population. I have a friend who is 65 who worked in the government in the Sudan for 30 years but she has no retirement because the country that she worked for has no retirement benefit packages or social security options. A college educated woman, my friend from the Sudan must take jobs such as in a preschool so that she can pay her rent because she has little savings.
My grandfathers did not live to be past 51 but they did plan ahead with investments to leave my grandmothers with the opportunity to live a good life without having to work outside of the home. However, with the advancements of technology and medicines people are living longer and with living longer means having to deal with more people’s health issues and providing a social welfare system that lasts beyond the next 10 years.
I am in my 20’s but saving for retirement now is a luxury that not many people my age can afford. Between paying off student loans, buying first cars, and starting families there is little room to put away money every month to secure a profitable retirement. The picture for having social security benefits when we are old enough to receive it is bleak so what will the picture of retirement look like forty years from now. All of the time on television, you hear politicians predict and debate this issue. However, what the politicians need to be addressing is what young adults today can do as part of a long-term strategy to save for retirement and educating us to empower our lives. Will the retirement of the future mean you retire from one job and enter another or will it mean that we will simply work ourselves to death?
Preparation for retirement and settling into old age were all around me as my parents have eased into this older age but I never really thought about it. The last home that they bought they was a single level home which is wheelchair accessible. The last cars that they bought were bigger and they had made a great effort to pay off their debts and make financial investments to secure their futures. Looking back, I can see that they have been preparing for retirement for a long period of time. I don’t know if I am the one that is ready to see my parents step into a world of retirement where my perception of retirement means meal time is on a schedule and going to the bathroom is the highlight of the day. However, the baby boomer generation did question the norms of society and create a world outside of what was considered the norm so they might change the face and perception of retirement.
My father, a baby boomer, is currently facing health issues and identity issues that culminate in depression. I watch him struggle to find a place in a world he thought he understood and realize that every day we get a new chance to start again. As baby boomers age, there are many issues that the United States will have to face both dealing with health care and the lack of experienced workers. Eventually, it will be up to the children of the baby boomers to lead this country. However, just bringing the potential issues that this mass exodus of people brings us a start to begin planning what steps need to be taken next to set up ourselves and our businesses for success.