Wednesday, May 29, 2002

A boring relationship robs you of solitude and doesn't provide companionship.

Oscar Wilde

Sunday, May 26, 2002

My 201 (k)

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, President Bush and other spinmeisters for the economy have yet to address the severity of the current downturn. The media doesn't paint an accurate picture either, for fear of further negatively impacting already diminishing advertising revenues. Among my peer group of aging baby boomers the slowing economy and the severe Wall Street correction is having a dramatic impact. While the severity of the downturn is glossed over by the media and government leaders it is given full voice in conversations with my aging boomer friends and associates.

I open the subject jokingly saying, "I used to have a 401(k) plan. Now I have a 201(k) plan." That immediately elicits a hearty laugh and the knowing reply, "Me too!" What does this mean for the boomer who cannot look forward to the sinecure of government, military, corporate or other assured pension programs? A common theme I hear from friends, against a backdrop of fear, is a grudging acknowledgement that they will need to work for three to five more years. Others are recalibrating retirement plans.

Social Security, typically denigrated by upwardly mobile, successful boomers, is now viewed with newly discovered comfort. I've heard friends say, "I just received a print-out of my benefits from Social Security and its going to make a difference when I retire." Those same people were dismissive of Social Security in the past. It was a government program for the other guy. Increasingly, there is new respect for this New Deal program.

Boomers have had a relatively easy life. They enjoyed the most prolonged adolescence in human history and in their self-absorbed fashion felt that they endured great pain with Vietnam. They believed they invented experimentation in music, art and lifestyles. Living in the present, many didn't plan well for the future. Many thought they were planning excellently with a 401(k) laden with tech stocks. Now, with those 401(k)'s looking like 201(k)'s aging boomers are having to make adjustments. Some aging boomers were "short-timers" looking forward to retirement within the next couple of years. They were planning to retire "earlier than the old man." They are now realizing that they have to "suck it up" and "grind it out" for a few more years. Many of them are tired of their work, not just tired of working. Cost consciousness is now on their minds. Lifestyle adjustments are being made and long nourished dreams are being modified or have been shattered completely.

This tough dose of hard reality has implications for the job market and for social policy. We should expect more people working longer because they must. We should expect new respect for Social Security in its traditional mode. It is not just something for our parents. There is also resentment that after nearly a full career of hard work the retirement on the horizon looks so insecure. There is bitterness that what looked like wise investment now looks too much like a lottery or a long lost weekend in Las Vegas.

So, be warned. Aging boomers are losing some of their bonhomie. Expect to hear some whining. And, they're gong to hanging around the office for a few more years.