Aging America

In case you hadn’t noticed, Americans, as a group, are getting older. According to a report by the Administration on Aging, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, as of 2020 more than 1 in 6 Americans was 65 or older. Seniors make up fully 17 percent of the nation’s population. That percentage is growing as successive years of Baby Boomers hit 65; in 2022, for example, the people born in 1957, the biggest birth year of the U.S. baby boom, celebrated their 65th natal days and added substantially to the geezer group.

This demographic make-up of modern America is significantly different from that of days of yore. As the article linked above notes, in 1900 only 3.1 million Americans, just 4 percent of the nation’s population, was over 65. Those numbers gradually crept up with the passage of ensuing decades, but during our lifetimes the growth has been explosive. In 1960, there were 16.2 million Americans over 65; by 2020, that number had more than tripled, to 55.7 million. In the decade between 2010 and 2020 alone, the number of such seniors increased by 15.2 million–almost as many people as the entire population of over-65s in 1960. These increases obviously put additional strain on senior-related programs, like Social Security and Medicare, and that strain will increase if current trends continue.

The report itself, which you can read here, has other fun facts about the over-65 Americans. The four states with the most seniors in 2020 were Maine, Florida, West Virginia, and Vermont. The average annual income for men over 65 was $35,808; for women over 65 it was $21,254. 10.6 million of those over-65ers were still in the work force. Arthritis is the most common chronic condition, affecting 47 percent of that population, and the group spends more than other demographic groups on health care.

And here’s a key statistic for those of us in the group who are wondering about retirement planning: in 2020, women who were 65 could expect to live an additional 19.8 years, and men at that age could expect to live an additional 17 years. Those numbers actually represent a decline from prior years, due to the impact of COVID and other causes of mortality. But here’s a bit of good news from a longevity standpoint–the number of people over 100 in 2020 was 104,819, more than triple the number in 1980. Adjust your retirement budgets accordingly.

Disclaiming Boomerdom

For years, I’ve been classified as a part of the “Baby Boom” generation. In fact, the year of my birth has been described as the height of the Baby Boom, because it was the year of the greatest number of births in the United States.

But now people are starting to argue that those of us born between 1955 and 1964 shouldn’t be viewed as Boomers at all. Instead, we should be categorized as part of “Generation Jones.” The argument is that we just didn’t have shared experiences with the true Baby Boom generation, which was born between 1946 and 1955. We didn’t watch Howdy Doody or I Love Lucy when it was first broadcast. (Countless reruns apparently don’t count.) But it wasn’t just TV that was different. Music was different. We were too young to be true hippies during the ’60s, or to be at serious risk of fighting in Vietnam. So really, we don’t belong with the much-maligned Boomers, but should be off on our own. (“Generation Jones,” a pretty lame name, refers to our “generation’s” alleged “keeping up with the Joneses” yearning.)

This seems like a dumb thing to argue about to me, but then I think trying to divide people into arbitrarily defined “generations” is stupid, too. People born in different years and in different places, even if they are born in the same 10-year span, are bound to have as many distinct experiences as they do common ones. Sure, the same TV shows were being broadcast on the same three channels, and the music played on pop radio was the same for everyone, but if you had a sibling who was a lot older than you, you probably had no choice but to watch different TV shows and listen to different radio stations than someone who lived in a house where they controlled the dial. If you had older siblings who were fighting in Vietnam, your experiences and childhood memories were different. The closest common cultural touchstones were probably shared by people who were in high school at the same time, but even then the experiences of kids in southern California, the Midwest, and Brooklyn were bound to be a lot different. So why try to shoehorn us into one “generation” and act like we all have the same approach to the world and the same perspective on life? It’s pointless and phony.

I don’t care whether I’m officially a Boomer, or not, but don’t now try to slide me over into “Generation Jones.” At this point, I guess I’d rather just be myself.

Generational Monikers

I’ve never understood the silly urge to coin names for “generations” — which basically seems to exist because, once you name a “generation,” you can make grossly overbroad generalizations about the people who are members.

It started with the “Baby Boomers,” which in my view shows just how stupid the generational naming is. “Baby Boomers” include anyone born between the end of World War II and 1964. That’s my generation, although my personal experience as someone born in the late ’50s is a lot different from someone born in the late ’40s. I wasn’t at risk of serving in Vietnam, for example, I didn’t go to any Beatles concerts, and I didn’t participate in any anti-war protests. Nevertheless, I’m designated as in that “generation” that is supposed to be hopelessly narcissistic and self-absorbed and now has become the source of the “OK, Boomer” putdown that younger generations like to use.

I think the Boomers were the first example of a named “generation.” And because sociologists thought that was a good idea, they gave names to other generations–including the “Silent Generation” that came before the Boomers, with members who had somehow been able to live their lives without a generational name until somebody decided, post-Boom, to give them one. Then came “Generation X,” immediately after the Baby Boomers, followed by “Millennials” (also apparently known as “Generation Y”), then “Generation Z.”

Now CNN is suggesting that the little kids of today–as part of the as-yet unnamed generation coming after “Generation Z”–should be called “Generation C,” because their outlook on life has been permanently transformed (and scarred) by the COVID pandemic. You can make the same arguments about how stupid it is to generalize about an entire generation, some of whom may well have been traumatized by COVID while others have simply accepted the changes and gone on with their kid lives without much concern. But the core point is how unfair it is to give a generation a name based on a disease. The coronavirus period has been tough, but it shouldn’t define a generation of little kids who will now be expected, going forward, to all be brittle and hyper safety conscious.

Can we please stop giving “generations” stupid names and generalizing about their members and their experiences?

Retirement Training

There’s a secret issue lurking deep within the many layers of this coronavirus episode and the “work from home” restrictions imposed by governmental entities, like Ohio, in response to the pandemic.  It’s a delicate, explosive, almost taboo subject that isn’t really being addressed by the people who are directly affected.

retired-couple-riding-bikesThe secret issue is this:  in “boomer” households where one spouse works outside the home and the other doesn’t, the forced “shelter in place” requirements are seen as a kind of trial run for the retirement period that is coming down the road in the near future.  And neither spouse really knows, for sure, how it’s going to work when the one spouse stops trotting off to work on weekdays and ends up hanging around the house with the other spouse all day.  To be sure, they hope that the retirement years will be the golden period of bike-riding and pottery-making togetherness that the commercials depict, but they wonder if the reality is going to be more difficult . . . and darker.

To put it plainly:  is constant togetherness, without the “down time” created when one spouse is off at work, going to drive the stay-at-home spouse nuts?  And is the mere presence of the working spouse during the daytime period going to noticeably interfere with the habits and routines of the spouse who is used to having the run of the home, to do whatever s/he wants, without having the still-working spouse getting in the way or following him/her around like a lost puppy or a bored child who demands attention every waking hour of the freaking day?

Of course, this stay-at-home period isn’t a true trial run for retirement, because the working spouses are supposed to be working from home and, therefore, presumably have things to do that will occupy their time and command their attention.  Still, the need for adjustment is the same.  You might call this shutdown period a kind of partial dry run.  And, in a sense, that makes the situation even more delicate — because if the presence of the working spouse is getting on the stay-at-home spouse’s last nerve even under these circumstances, what’s it going to be like when true retirement comes and there is no work to serve as a distraction?

In households across America, spouses are walking on eggshells.  And if they aren’t, perhaps they should be.

Never Quite “Old”

Recently the New York Times ran a piece which once again addresses the question of what constitutes being “old” in America.  The writer, who is 61, says that the question of “what is ‘old,’ anyway?” is very much on his mind and is on the minds of the 70 million Baby Boomers who are older than 50.  He adds, by way of illustration:  “Dinner conversations are now hyper-focused on how to stay young or at least delay old.”

active-seniors-bicyclingThose sound like pretty damned boring dinner conversations!

It seems like we see these articles with regularity, as we Baby Boomers fight desperately to avoid association with “old age.”  The article linked above, for example, quotes a researcher who says that somebody who is 60 years old today is “middle-aged” and true “old age” doesn’t occur until men hit 70 to 71 and women hit 73 or 74.  Wanna bet that those numbers move back even farther as the bulge of the Boomer generation moves closer to the dreaded “old age” cutoff, to the point where, in a few years, people are saying 80 is the new 50?

It’s pretty ridiculous — and kind of pathetic — when you think about it.  Some people in the Baby Boom generation have always seemed more focused on how they are perceived than how they feel about themselves.  Now that they are aging, and they don’t want to be seen as “old,” they struggle to convince everyone that a different definition should apply. But the efforts aren’t working, and people still use the same criteria to define who is “old” — things like whether you’ve got gray hair, or for that matter any hair, and whether you’re approaching retirement at your workplace.  If you have enough of those criteria, you’re going to be seen as “old,” whether or not some researcher argues that advances in longevity really should change the definition.

If all Baby Boomers were really as rebellious as they like to think they are, they wouldn’t care about public perception.  If you’re seen as old by others, so what?  The key is what people think about themselves, not the labels assigned to them by others.  Baby Boomers would be better off if they stopped talking about “being old” at dinner conversations, and started focusing more on what they personally still want to do with their lives.

Long Hair On Old Guys

Yesterday Kish and I were at an event, and seated two rows ahead of us was an old guy in his 60s with long gray hair.  I mean, really long hair.  It cascaded past his shoulders and shoulder blades, and the longest strands probably reached the middle of his back.

305471-a3And, like seemingly every human being who has long hair, he couldn’t keep his hands off of it.  As he put his arm around his lady friend with his right hand, he would use his left hand to do the casual hair-flip-off-the-shoulders move that teenage girls perfected in high school.  Sometimes he would smooth down the hair, which had the oily sheen that you often see with long hair, and other times he would gather his gray locks in both hands, like he was going to put it into a pony tail, only to let fall like a sheet of gray, hairy rain behind his seat.

This guy obviously thought that he was just about the coolest person in the place with that long gray hair.

Other people, though . . . not so much.  The poor woman sitting right behind him had to deal with that scraggly gray-haired waterfall, with all of its fidgety flips and drops and adjustments, intruding on her personal space.  I couldn’t help but notice that, when she shifted position to cross her legs, she very carefully maneuvered to avoid having her shoe or pant leg make contact with even a single gray hair fiber.

Why?  Because most people don’t want to touch or interact with other people’s long hair.  And while we might tolerate it in self-absorbed high school girls or members of heavy metal hair bands or Indian gurus or photos of gunfighters from the 1880s, when it’s one of those old guys who is desperately clinging to pretensions of youth, all a polite person can do is roll his eyes and wonder at some people’s apparently endless capacity for self-deception.

Unfortunately, the old guy long hair look is all too common.  Aging Baby Boomer guys just can’t tolerate the notion that they aren’t young anymore, I guess.  They can’t control most of the ravages of age — but they can control the length of their hair.  They want people to understand immediately that, even though they now look like their grandfathers, they are still cool and at the cutting edge of society, and they think long hair communicates that.  But of course, it doesn’t.  Long hair on an old guy doesn’t look cool.  It doesn’t make them look young, either.  Instead, it’s kind of pathetic.

C’mon, Baby Boomer guys . . . you’re old.  Stop embarrassing yourselves!  It’s finally time to act your age.

Computers, And Sod Carriers

We’re in the process of replacing the office computers at our firm.  This week, the wave finally hit my floor.

I had been dreading it, frankly.  I’ve had my computer for years, and it did just what I wanted it to do.  Like many aging Baby Boomers, I was comfortable with the existing technology and not especially eager to move on to something new that I would have to learn all over again.  The younger generation at the firm, on the other hand, was keen to get newer products and integrate them with the tablets, PDAs, and other electronic gizmos they’re always tapping on around the office.

IMG_6132This week, as D-Day approached, I got a multi-page memo about what I had to do to get ready for the change.  I groaned, thinking it would be a huge hassle.  But as my secretary and I walked through it, with her interpreting for the Luddite as necessary, I realized I didn’t have to do most of the stuff because I wasn’t using much of the functionality of even the older computer.  I hadn’t modified the tool bar, subscribed to any RSS feeds (at least, I think that is what it was called), added a bunch of websites as favorites, or changed my desktop, so I didn’t need to do much to get ready for the changeover.

I was grateful that the prep process didn’t take longer, but also a bit embarrassed that I really wasn’t making great use of the awesome capabilities of my desktop computer — which tells you something right there, because most of my fellow lawyers seem to have ultra-thin laptop units that they cart around and set up at every meeting.  The laptoppers seem to be far more technologically comfortable and adept than the desktoppers.  It’s like the separation that occurred in the late Middle Ages, when a craftsman class arose out of the serfs laboring in the fields.  I’m still one of the bent-backed, sod-carrying group.

When I arrived at the office yesterday, to find a new computer with a Skyping camera on top and a headset (a headset?), I was filed with wonder, trepidation — and determination.  Maybe it’s time for me to get off the sod and become a silversmith before it’s too late.

Dream Job with the Dream Team

Over the weekend I saw a Pew Research poll that said 85% of baby boomers are not happy with the way things are going and I am happy to say I am not one of them. Years ago in my twenties I was the host at a small steakhouse and I always thought it would be fun to try my hand at it again when I retired.

After almost thirty years in the insurance industry I got my opportunity to do it again at the Windward Passage a quaint seafood restaurant in northwest Columbus. Each week I typically work a few lunch shifts and a couple of dinner shifts for some spending money now that I am officially retired.

Pictured above are my favorite “lunch bunch” – from left to right – Ashley, Amy, me, Sonya, Dana and Katie. These ladies some who are single moms and some who work two jobs to make ends meet are the ultimate team players, always pitching in to help each other without any complaints. I have to say it is truly a joy to work with them on a regular basis.

So if you are up in the Henderson Road area Monday through Friday stop in for lunch between 11 – 2:30 for one of the restaurant’s reasonably priced lunch specials and have one of these gals wait on you. You will find it well worth it and I guarantee you will want to come back !

Boom(er) or Bust


Well as of January 1st, 2011 the first of the baby boom generation is turning sixty five. It’s the start of the familiar phrase “Happy Birthday” about 10,000 times a day for the next nineteen years. The numbers are going to be staggering, 20% of Americans 65 or older by the year 2030.

Since I am a boomer (born in 1956) I’m taking exception to the articles I have read recently calling my generation – self absorbed, full of self pity, self interested and glum with a sense of entitlement. Come on boomers are we really as bad as they say we are ?

A recent survey said that some of that pessimism is due to middle age because it is the most demanding and stressful time in ones life. Okay maybe that’s true and maybe things haven’t turned out exactly the way we wanted, but lets try to put a little positive spin on things and not rain on the younger generations parade ?

It may take some creativity on our part but we can do it, so glum – schlum – my New Years Resolution is to try my darnest not to get sucked down in the negativity others are spreading in 2011.

A Cold, Icy Hand

The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting that the Social Security system will pay out in benefits more than it takes in this year, and the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration seemingly agrees.  The threshold will be crossed much earlier than expected because the current economic recession caused receipts from payroll taxes to decline — due to the high unemployment in the country — while the payouts have increased due to some people taking retirement earlier than was planned.  The imbalance is a matter of some immediate concern, although the chief actuary states that the system has a considerable balance.

The demographics of the Social Security system are inexorable, however.  The reality is that Americans are living longer and longer and therefore are receiving Social Security payments for longer periods than before.  In addition, the forthcoming retirements of millions of Baby Boomers — who all at once will stop contributing and starting receiving — will place an enormous strain on the system.  As a result of these factors, we will have fewer and fewer workers supporting payments to more and more retirees.

For those of us who are at the tail end of the Baby Boom, or younger, news about the solvency of the Social Security system is of the keenest interest.  We’ve faithfully paid into the system for decades, and lately we’ve come to wonder whether we will ever see benefits from those contributions when our retirement date arrives.  We pray that Social Security will be a reliable part of our retirement income planning — and when we read that the system is paying out more than it takes in already, years earlier than was anticipated, it is like a cold, icy hand clutching the heart.