The piece, by the Associated Press, quotes a national survey by Wells Fargo that concludes workers have “stopped fixating on their target retirement age” of 65 or 67. Instead, they’re paying attention to how much money they need to retire.
I hear you “hmmphing”. What kind of retirement can you have if you wait until 80 to win it?
Well, maybe the kind of retirement other generations expected — up to a dozen years without labor before beginning the long goodnight. Last century we added 20 years to the average lifespan, with people living well into their 80s. Futurists already expect the 21st century will push average lifespans into the 90s.
The U.S. Census reports 1.9 million have reached 90 or older today, compared with 720,000 just a decade ago. By 2050 the bureau says that number could reach 9 million people. Retired people. That can be a long time to kick around doing not much of anything.
The folks born between 1914 and 1927—the group that author Tom Brokaw dubbed “the Greatest Generation”—was really the first to set us up to expect long retirements. Indeed, long entitled retirements. They lived in Del Webb Sun Cities and played golf and bridge for as long as 20 years. They had pensions and Social Security and Medicare.
Those were the days.
And maybe they’re returning—in a different form. Maybe today’s retirement comes at the start of work life, not the end.
Last year, just 950,000 new households were created in the U.S., compared with 1.3 million in 2007, the year the recession began, the New York Times reports. Fewer marriages. Lots more kids graduating from college and returning home to fill that never-empty nest.
Young adults leaving the nest, couples divorcing, foreign immigrants and roommates separating all help drive economic growth, the New York Times says. “Under normal circumstances, each time a household is formed it adds about $145,000 to output that year as the spending ripples through the economy,” says the Times, quoting a study by Moody’s Analytics.
Of course, you can’t blame the kids. Only 74 percent of those age 25 to 34 were working last month.
The New York Times story goes on to talk with young men who have jobs— good jobs—but aren’t moving out because they save money living at home. They pay rent—to themselves—or sometimes just wallow in luxuries.
The indulgence of living large at a parent’s expense is hurting the economy, professorial types insist. They quote John Maynard Keynes, the 20th century British economist, who says there is a “paradox of thrift:” Savings is good for the individual but reduces demand and therefore penalizes the overall economy.
Now to be sure, modern economists insist once we pull out of this current job slump, these younger workers will be “normal” again and start buying homes, thereby pumping up the economy. Or will they?
Living with mom and dad—particularly letting mom do the laundry and cooking—can turn into a pretty cozy deal. Why stress yourself if you don’t need to make the change?
Years ago, I used to hum a Noel Coward song “What’s Going to Happen to the Children When There Aren’t Any More Grownups?”
Coward was concerned about a generation of parents who spent money on themselves—on facelifts and other frivolities—instead of concentrating on the future of their children.
And that generation is today’s parents.
No one’s been asking them how they feel about working until their 80s. About their children still at home.
Of these folks who answered the Wells Fargo questionnaire, some 75 percent said they expect to work in so-called retirement years. Some 39 percent said they have to work to maintain their lifestyle. Then there’s the 35 percent who say they just enjoy working, for its purpose and pleasure.
And while they work, they keep their jobs so the kids can’t get any but they also keep the kids at home. Still “children” and not facing the responsibilities of adulthood.
Coward wondered what was going to happen to the “children” born after 1946? Alas, maybe now we know.
Or as the old Pogo comic strip said: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
© 2011, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).