“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip …”
If you’re the right age to recognize these opening lines from the theme song for “Gilligan’s Island,” then you can probably also relate to the plights of present-day castaways.
For this is a tale of navigating today’s turbulent waters in which, as the weather gets rough, our tiny ships are tossed. The current administration’s calls to cut Social Security benefits, and some inane rumblings on Capitol Hill about limiting early retirement plan distributions — even though it’s our money and we would pay a hefty penalty for taking early distributions — are creating a perfect storm of unstable financial futures.
In demographic terms, we are baby boomers, so named because we arrived during the post-World-War-II birth rate boom between 1946 and 1964. Although much has been said about baby boomers’ impact on history and culture — a generation that Time selected as its 1966 “Man of the Year” — there will be a lot more to talk about as we begin to retire … or try to retire, as the case may be.
Some 76 million of us were born during these 18 years, a group significant for its sheer size alone: consider that the average birth rate per 1,000 population from 1950 to 1959 was about 23.1, compared with an average birth rate of 12.1 from 2000 to 2009. And for many Boomers, the old adage comprising much of the American Dream — that each generation’s children will be better off than their parents — simply isn’t true, especially for those born in the second half of the boom, usually considered as 1956 to 1964.
Baby boomers today are frequently caught at sea, caring for both their parents and their children, or even their grandchildren.
The state of the economy has also left much of the baby boom generation adrift between the unwanted, premature ends of their income-producing opportunities and whatever remains of their retirement savings.
No matter how rosy jobs reports may seem, some baby boomers have exhausted their unemployment benefits and so aren’t even counted in the jobless rate, and some have just stopped looking for jobs — no matter how much they actually want or need to return to the workforce — and also don’t show up in calculations for the number of Americans who are unemployed.
This year, the oldest baby boomers turn 67, the statutory age for retirement in the U.S. Yet, studies conducted as recently as 2011 show that more than 40 percent of Boomers are delaying their retirements and 25 percent say they’ll never stop working. Part of the reason for such decisions is that nearly 61 percent of our generation — a whopping 46 million people — saw their retirement savings go down with the ship of the American economic crisis.
So what will happen to our stranded castaways, grounded on the shores of these uncharted desert isles?
Time will tell, but one thing is for sure: we’ll be watching with our wallets — and our votes — to see what happens with our Social Security benefits and our pension plans, both of which, by the way, we have earned.
After all, as the song says, we are a fearless crew.
Andrea Doray is a writer who hopes you will forgive her for the seagoing metaphor, mateys. You can send her a message in a bottle, or simply contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.