In sharp juxtaposition to “The Golden Years” legend embraced by our parents’ generation – the housing industry-inspired mythology that serves up retirement as a time for carefree, unending play – Marc Freedman suggests something else: “If graying continues to mean only playing, it will mean paying…
“We can’t afford a leisure class that makes up one-fourth of the population.”
In his new book, Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life, Freedman asks: “How could the best thing that has ever happened to us as individuals – the dramatic extension of life and health – amount to the worst thing that has happened to us as a nation?”
To encapsulate what he means by “the worst thing,” Freedman identifies eight factors contributing to a gathering “perfect storm,” the first four of which are darkly ominous.
First, Freedman drives home a message being carried by many thought-leaders today: inexorable demographics. By 2030, 25% of all U.S. residents will be 60 and older. Never before in the history of the nation, or for that matter, Western society, will so many people have reached the 7th decade of life.
Second, not only is the nation growing older; Americans are living longer. By mid-century, average life expectancy in the longest-lived countries may exceed the century mark. According to my analysis of census bureau statistics, by 2065 our nation will be home to at least 2.1 million centenarians.
Third, huge numbers of aging adults and increasing longevity imply that many will face the prospect of financing 30 or more years in retirement. Aside from the wealthiest of the generation, few Boomers have saved enough for so many years without added income. My research has disclosed that roughly 25% of the Boomer generation is technically broke today, with net assets of $10,000 or less.
Fourth, the retirement safety nets relied upon by our parents — Social Security and Medicare — are in severe danger of collapse. I have had an opportunity to hear disconcerting presentations by David Walker, Comptroller General of the United States. The total future unfunded liability of the U.S. government, including entitlement programs, is $46.4 trillion. Unimaginable national debt will inexorably lead to disastrous consequences for our economy, for us, and even for our children’s children.
One way to think of an encore is as repetition, a repeated musical performance for example. Marc Freedman is in one sense calling on Boomers to repeat their careers again for perhaps shorter stints after the time of traditional retirement. This paradigm shift can go a long way in quelling the storm by increasing the number of years we are making instead of just consuming money.
But the book title has another, much larger implication. It is important that we realize something is greater at stake then just keeping Boomers busy, longer.
If that’s all we need, then probably the so-called “bridge jobs” would be sufficient. These are the myriad retail and customer service jobs, such as Wal-Mart greeters, that employers are eager to fill with over-qualified Boomers at low wages. These McJobs also answer the yearning for “busyness,” a sense that all’s right with the world because we’re busy, busy, busy.
Freedman isn’t just suggesting an encore in a literal sense. If you haven’t guessed by now, he is calling on his generation “to a gathering movement whose larger purpose is to solve the greatest problems facing humanity today.”
Many books are now being published about the Boomer generation and what the aging of this segment means to the economy, to the healthcare system and to the future of aging. Some of these books simply rehash similar concepts and insights.
Marc Freedman’s Encore offers a fresh approach by not only identifying potential problems of population aging but also creating a coherent vision for how we can transform “the problems” into unparalleled opportunities for businesses, nonprofit organizations and our society as a whole. It’s a clarion call to a generation and an optimistic portrayal of how Boomers can make our “long, strange trip” even better.
To this Encore, I say bravo.