As the 78 million baby boomers are pushed into the ranks of senior citizenship with each passing year, far too many are living in denial and are ill-prepared for the health and financial realities of their future.
The generation that is associated with the mantra “Don’t trust anyone over 30” is railing against an ageist society that they helped create. Clinging to illusions of perpetual youth, the boomer generation has failed to adequately prepare for the inevitability of their own aging.
Try as they might to push back the official designation of becoming a senior, 60 is not the new 40, and 70 is not the new 50. Changing terminology does not change reality. A 65-year-old “mature adult” or “working retiree” is no different from a 65-year-old “senior.”
Despite claims that they are more youthful and healthy than preceding generations, a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (2013) titled “The Status of Baby Boomers’ Health in the United States: The Healthiest Generation?” found otherwise.
Fewer boomers rated their heath as excellent compared to traditionalists, those born between 1900-1945. They had higher blood pressure, cholesterol, hypertension and greater rates of diabetes. Boomers are more obese, have more functional limitations and are more likely to use an assistive walking device.
When it comes to lifestyle factors, boomers are lagging behind there, too. Only 35 percent of boomers in the study reported that they engaged in regular exercise compared to 50 percent in the traditionalists group. More than half of boomers admitted that they had a sedentary lifestyle and did not engage in regular physical activity, compared to 17 percent of the older group. To be fair, boomers did better than their elders in smoking less; however, overall they fare much worse.
The authors concluded that “Despite their longer life expectancy over previous generations, U.S. baby boomers have higher rates of chronic disease, more disability, and lower self-rated health than members of the previous generation at the same age.”
Boomers differ from previous generations in financial preparedness as well. Traditionalists are known for setting money aside, paying with cash, and saving. As a cohort, they were more financially conservative than boomers who frequently adopt a “buy now, pay later” approach to money management.
A Retirement Confidence Survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute in 2013 found that 60 percent of workers age 55 and older have less than $100,000 in retirement savings, 43 percent have saved less than $25,000, and 36 percent have saved less than $10,000. To make matters worse, 46 percent of all workers surveyed do not even have a retirement plan.
The National Institute of Retirement Security (2013) found similar trends. In the report “The Retirement Savings Crises: Is it Worse Than We Think?” the authors found that the median savings for people 10 years away from retirement is only $12,000, and one-third of those ages 55 and 64 haven’t saved anything for retirement.
Despite the obvious lack of savings, more than two-thirds of workers report that they believe they are “doing a good job of preparing for retirement.”
Clearly, a discrepancy between perception and reality exists.
American’s are known for their eternal optimism. Even when the recession ravaged our country, employment rates plunged and people lost entire savings, a national poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS found that 72 percent of Americans still believed in the American Dream. Optimism, coupled with a healthy dose of can-do attitude, keeps our hopes high and our outlook positive.
Optimism without action, however, does little to replenish bank accounts or maintain health. While still in good health and reaping the benefits of employment, it is easy to forget the impermanence of both. Unfortunately, many boomers face a bleak future and rather than deal with this impending reality, they remain in denial.
A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that one out of five seniors in California are living in poverty. That number is expected to rise as the baby boomers continue to retire. Many seniors who currently don’t have enough resources to make ends meet report that it was unexpected health issues, the death of a spouse, or outliving their resources that sent them spiraling into financial crisis.
Physical and financial health are inextricably linked in our older years. In order to be adequately prepared one must develop and follow a plan to maintain physical health as well as financial health.
Solano County, the Senior Coalition and the Solano Safety Net Steering Committee are hosting a Senior Poverty Summit on Tuesday to explore the severity and prevalence of poverty among seniors in the county. For information on the summit or to register, call Evelyn at 784-8269.
Rochelle Sherlock, M.A., is a consultant/adviser to the Senior Coalition of Solano County, an advisory board to Solano County’s Board of Supervisors.