Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Worried boomers turn 65: Die too soon or not soon enough? -- Dec. 29, 2010 column


Nearly every news story about the first boomers turning 65 contains sober warnings that boomers haven’t saved enough, and their golden years could be dross.

Not only will most boomers be unable to start a winery in retirement, as a TV ad suggests is our natural right, but also we may be forced to subsist on cat food in cold, dark rooms without Facebook. (Just kidding about the Facebook part. It’s not that bad.)

Still, according to the news, as about 10,000 baby boomers a day turn 65 a day in 2011, all boomers face the perplexing prospect of outliving their resources. There’s surely an element of schadenfreude, delight in the misfortunes of others, in these gloomy reports.

Instead of accentuating the negative, though, there’s a brighter way to look at the situation.

Today, one in four Americans are boomers. Older people vote, and boomers are a political force. The generation born between 1946 and 1964 isn’t a political monolith, given its size and diversity, but boomers do have clout. Politicians can’t continue indefinitely to ignore the problems facing Social Security and Medicare.

The likely fixes -- raising the early retirement age and higher taxes on benefits – may be unpalatable to the youngest workers, but it’s unlikely that politicians will slash benefits for those in or edging toward retirement.

Plus, here’s a surprising fact. Most boomers turning 65 are already collecting Social Security. About 42 percent of 62-year-olds opt for early retirement payments, even though it means, roughly, a 25 percent lower monthly check.

Interestingly, people end up receiving about the same amount in Social Security benefits whether they start collecting at 62 with reduced benefits, at 66 with full benefits or wait until they’re 70, when they collect higher payments, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. That’s because even though early retirees receive less per month, they live long enough to collect as much as those who start receiving larger payments at 70, Alicia H. Munnell, Alex Golub-Sass and Nadia Karamcheva found.

And, signing up for Social Security doesn’t mean people are retired. More than one-fifth of those 62 to 69 who were receiving Social Security between 2000 and 2009 described themselves as in the labor force, Census surveys report.

So, fellow boomers, let’s make some New Year’s resolutions. Let’s stop whining. Stop boring ourselves and everyone else with horrendous what-ifs. Let’s stop talking about our age. It can’t hurt, and it might help improve our mood. Many surveys find that boomers are in a grand funk as we start 2011.

Where to start? Banish the odious phrase “senior moment” along with the “C.R.A.F.T.” moment – rendered politely as “can’t remember a freaking thing.” And never, ever refer to ourselves as SOFT – Saggy, Old, Forgetful, Tubby.

One of my closest friends e-mailed the other day: “I did manage to go flying on the ice last week, in embarrassingly old lady fashion, but no serious damage done. There is something to be said for extra padding, I guess.”

No, no, no. I love Diann, but this time she had it wrong. People of all ages slip on ice. We slipped on the ice in college without a thought about decrepitude. A tumble now doesn’t mean we’re old ladies. Of course not! How about: “I did manage to keep my aplomb after a flight on the ice last week. No damage was done, and I arose with a smile.” OK, that’s pushing it. To paraphrase Tina Turner, what’s padding got to do with it?

Most boomers don’t feel o-l-d. A 2009 Pew Research Center study found that nearly two-thirds of boomers feel younger than their actual age. A boomer typically feels 9 years younger than his or her driver’s license says.

We boomers simply have to rise above the way younger people think. When Pew asked when old age sets in, people 18 to 29 said at 60. These same young people said that someone who “frequently forgets familiar names” is old. Ha. Less than half of all adults over 30 agree.

And when do people 65-plus say old age starts? Age 74.

Boomers turning 65 in 2011 starts a major demographic shift for this country. By 2030 nearly one in five Americans will be 65 or older. It’ll be a senior boom.

© 2010 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. What a delightful column Ms Mercer writes this week. Boomers should heed her advice. People who are not Boomers can benefit from knowing how Boomers think. Marsha is right, one is as old as one thinks and positive thinking is the way to go.

    It is surprising to read that 42% of Boomers take Social Security retirement pay at age 62 rather than wait to age 66. If it all works out the same in the end, why not take it while you can get it? Who knows what Congress will do about Social Security in the future. One thing for sure - Congress is not about to INCREASE benefits.

    Thanks for your excellent observatons, Ms Mercer. We all benefit from your well written and thoughtful and timely columns each week.