America’s New Reality Is My New Reality

This year the first “baby boomers” became eligible for retirement. Being eligible and actually retiring are two different issues. But whether we retire or not is not the issue, the fact is that we are living longer. The U.S. Census Bureau defines the “baby boomers” as those born between January 1st, 1946 and December 31st, 1964. Research indicates that over the next decade more than 76 million “baby boomers” will reach retirement age. But living longer also means getting prepared for the impeding challenges and realities of dealing with Social Security, health care, housing, employment, and other issues that are a result of aging.

As my friends and I embark on this phase of our lives, it is a personal reality for me. I am over 65 and there is no question that I have begun to be more engrossed and engaged in the relevant public policy issues and challenges of aging. I find myself worrying about the rising cost of living, whether I will be able to stay healthy enough to work or to care for my aging relatives.

The Stanford Center on Longevity researches aging and living longer well. Statistics from the Center are both revealing and provocative.

• The number of older people (age 65 and over) will double over the next 30 years, from 40 million to 80 million, and the percentage of older people in the population will increase from 13% to 20%.

• By 2032, there will be more people 65 or older than children under 15. Today, 1 in 5 Americans is 65 years old or older.

• Without policy and behavioral changes, the fiscal burden on individual workers and taxpayers will skyrocket.

• Unless people work longer, the personal financial burden also will increase as people reach older ages.

• Population aging will affect younger Americans as well. Their economic prospects and future tax burdens depend on how effectively today’s policy makers prepare.

• Diversity will increase among older people, with minorities accounting for 60% of the growth among those 65 or older.

Those are the facts but they don’t articulate the fears of aging. As older adults, we hear from young folks that we walk too slow, drive too slow, we don’t hear or see as well as we used to and that we are frustrated by the rapidly changing pace of technology. I worry about whether I have saved enough to supplement pension payments and Social Security, as I look forward to another 20 years of living on my own.

Like many seniors who expected to retire, many of us are continuing to work and in many cases competing with younger people for the same positions. If we aren’t competing, we are working side-by-side. Did you notice the man who bags the groceries in your neighborhood store is no longer a teenager? Or the clerk at the dry cleaners? Or the usher at the movie theater? These are not high-paying jobs and sure old people enjoy the social engagement of work but most are working because they need the money. Today in Atlanta, one in nine residents is over 65-years-old and the ratio is declining. By 2030 the Atlanta Regional Commission projects that number will be one in five.

The collapse of the financial markets compounds the challenges the aging population face. Savings and retirement funds accumulated for a lifetime are diminished or wiped out with little chance of recovery. Women who earned less than men are living longer. More women are living in poverty as they age. Every aspect of government services and community life faces consequences with the explosion of the 65 and older population. These startling facts are my new reality.

As a “baby boomer”, I hope for a successful career beyond 65-years-old as long as my brain and body are healthy but these last few months of waiting for an economic recovery plan from the White House and Congress haven’t helped my anxiety any.