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Today, more than 10,000 Baby Boomers will retire. This is going to happen day after day, month after month, year after year until 2030. It is the greatest demographic tsunami in the history of the United States, and we are woefully unprepared for it. We have made financial promises to the Baby Boomers worth tens of trillions of dollars that we simply are not going to be able to keep. Even if we didn’t have all of the other massive economic problems that we are currently dealing with, this retirement crisis would be enough to destroy our economy all by itself. During the first half of this century, the number of senior citizens in the United States is being projected to more than double. As a nation, we are alreadydrowning in debt. So where in the world are we going to get the money to take care of all of these elderly people?
The Baby Boomer generation is so massive that it has fundamentally changed America with each stage that it has gone through. When the Baby Boomers were young, sales of diapers and toys absolutely skyrocketed. When they became young adults, they pioneered social changes that permanently altered our society. Much of the time, these changes were for the worse.
According to the New York Post, overall household spending peaks when we reach the age of 46. And guess what year the peak of the Baby Boom generation reached that age?…
People tend, for instance, to buy houses at about the same age — age 31 or so. Around age 53 is when people tend to buy their luxury cars — after the kids have finished college, before old age sets in. Demographics can even tell us when your household spending on potato chips is likely to peak — when the head of it is about 42.
Ultimately the size of the US economy is simply the total of what we’re all spending. Overall household spending hits a high when we’re about 46. So the peak of the Baby Boom (1961) plus 46 suggests that a high point in the US economy should be about 2007, with a long, slow decline to follow for years to come.
And according to that same article, the Congressional Budget Office is also projecting that an aging population will lead to diminished economic growth in the years ahead…
Lost in the discussion of this week’s Congressional Budget Office report (which said 2.5 million fewer Americans would be working because of Obamacare) was its prediction that aging will be a major drag on growth: “Beyond 2017,” said the report, “CBO expects that economic growth will diminish to a pace that is well below the average seen over the past several decades [due in large part to] slower growth in the labor force because of the aging of the population.”
So we have a problem. Our population is rapidly aging, and an immense amount of economic resources is going to be required to care for them all.
Unfortunately, this is happening at a time when our economy is steadily declining.
The following are some of the hard numbers about the demographic tsunami which is now beginning to overtake us…
1. Right now, there are somewhere around 40 million senior citizens in the United States. By 2050 that number is projected to skyrocket to 89 million.
2. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 46 percent of all American workers have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, and29 percent of all American workers have less than $1,000 saved for retirement.
3. One poll discovered that 26 percent of all Americans in the 46 to 64-year-old age bracket have no personal savings whatsoever.
4. According to a survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, “60 percent of American workers said the total value of their savings and investments is less than $25,000”.
5. 67 percent of all American workers believe that they “are a little or a lot behind schedule on saving for retirement”.
6. A study conducted by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research found that American workers are $6.6 trillion short of what they need to retire comfortably.
7. Back in 1991, half of all American workers planned to retire before they reached the age of 65. Today, that number has declined to 23 percent.
8. According to one recent survey, 70 percent of all American workers expect to continue working once they are “retired”.
9. A poll conducted by CESI Debt Solutions found that 56 percent of American retirees still had outstanding debts when they retired.
10. A study by a law professor at the University of Michigan found that Americans that are 55 years of age or older now account for 20 percent of all bankruptcies in the United States. Back in 2001, they only accounted for 12 percent of all bankruptcies.
11. Today, only 10 percent of private companies in the U.S. provide guaranteed lifelong pensions for their employees.
12. According to Northwestern University Professor John Rauh, the total amount of unfunded pension and healthcare obligations for retirees that state and local governments across the United States have accumulated is 4.4 trillion dollars.
13. Right now, the American people spend approximately 2.8 trillion dollars on health care, and it is being projected that due to our aging population health care spending will rise to an astounding 4.5 trillion dollars in 2019.
14. Incredibly, the United States spends more on health care than China, Japan, Germany, France, the U.K., Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Australia combined.
15. If the U.S. health care system was a country, it would be the 6th largest economy on the entire planet.
16. When Medicare was first established, we were told that it would cost about $12 billion a year by the time 1990 rolled around. Instead, the federal government ended up spending $110 billion on the program in 1990, and the federal government spent approximately $600 billion on the program in 2013.
17. It is being projected that the number of Americans on Medicare will grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 73.2 million in 2025.
18. At this point, Medicare is facing unfunded liabilities of more than 38 trillion dollars over the next 75 years. That comes to approximately$328,404 for every single household in the United States.
19. In 1945, there were 42 workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits. Today, that number has fallen to 2.5 workers, and if you eliminate all government workers, that leaves only 1.6 private sector workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits.
21. Overall, the Social Security system is facing a 134 trillion dollar shortfall over the next 75 years.
22. The U.S. government is facing a total of 222 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities during the years ahead. Social Security and Medicare make up the bulk of that.
So where are we going to get the money?
That is a very good question.
The generations following the Baby Boomers are going to have to try to figure out a way to navigate this crisis. The bright future that they were supposed to have has been destroyed by our foolishness and our reckless accumulation of debt.
But do they actually deserve a “bright future”? Perhaps they deserve to spend their years slaving away to support previous generations during their golden years. Young people today tend to be extremely greedy, self-centered and lacking in compassion. They start blogs with titles such as “Selfies With Homeless People“. Here is one example from that blog…
Of course not all young people are like that. Some are shining examples of what young Americans should be.
Unfortunately, those that are on the right path are a relatively small minority.
In the end, it is our choices that define us, and ultimately America may get exactly what it deserves.
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A commonly held opinion is that older workers who stay on the job past the usual retirement dates and baby boomers just hanging on to their jobs are somehow denying young people entry to the workforce. But researchers say that’s not true.
U.S. research economist April Yanyuan Wu says there’s no evidence to support the view that retaining older workers hurts younger ones by reducing the number of jobs, and she co-authored a paper on the subject last year.
Wu, with the Center for Retirement Research at Boston, challenges the co-called “lump labour” theory, which can be traced to Henry Mayhew’s 1851 London Labour and the London Poor collection of research material.
The Victorian-era social researcher and journalist argued that cutting the number of hours employees worked would reduce unemployment.
Taking inspiration from this long-held simple premise that there are a fixed number of jobs available, some policy makers in North America and Europe have used this theory to argue in favour of curbing immigration and validating early retirement programs.
But most economists tend to frown on what they call the labour lump fallacy.
Wu points to what was happening in the 1960s and ’70s when women entered the workforce in greater numbers. There weren’t fewer jobs for men. The economy simply expanded.
Canadian labour force researcher Rosemary Venne says career patterns have changed dramatically since the post-Second World War era and the birth of the baby boom generation.
Venne, who has written papers on demographic effects on the labour force and careers with Canadian economist and demographer David Foot, says young people of today are taking “longer to launch into adulthood,” but it’s not simply a numbers game of pitting one generation against another.
Always higher youth unemployment
“I don’t see it,” she says. “One of the reasons why youth are having trouble getting established — and they always have trouble; there’s always higher youth unemployment — is they’re not as job ready as young people were maybe 20 or 30 years ago, because career patterns have changed, organizational hierarchies have changed, they’ve flattened. There are not as many entry level positions.
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“So the fixed career ladder of the 1950s and ’60s has really given way to more varied career patterns where people don’t stay in a workplace.”
Organizations don’t hire the army of entry-level labour they use to and have fewer layers in the corporate hierarchy, says Venne, who teaches at the University of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business. More companies are using technology, direct data entry and robotics.
Period of youth a ‘complex life stage’
“The stage of youth has become a more complex life stage. It used to be a stage that you were job-ready after high school. You jumped into a job and you left home pretty young,” Venne says, but home-leaving ages have really increased over the years.
Here are a couple of Canadian “launch” stats:
- In 2006, 60 per cent of young people from the ages of 20 to 24 were still living at home.
- In 1986, that figure was less than 50 per cent (49.3 per cent).
Clearly, 15- to 24-year-olds in Western society face different challenges than their parents at that age.
In 2010, Venne released her paper titled “Longer to launch: Demographic changes in life-course transitions.” In it, she writes that many stages of life are lengthening, including the period when young people are dependent on parents.
“They’ve got a lot choices in education, and jumping into that is going to delay the launch into a career,” she says. “It’s a reflection of new realities, changing career patterns, longer life expectancy. You just need flexibility.”
She says, in some ways, parents are providing that by supporting adult children still living at home, “and sometimes paying for their education.”
Their children are not only staying in the nest and starting jobs later, but also marrying and having a family of their own later, so it’s a given that they’re relying on their parents a little bit longer.
87-year-old Lew Manchester has just returned from a 3-week trip touring Buddhist temples in Laos and cruising the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. His 61-year-old daughter Lee lives year-round in the basement of her friend’s Cape Cod cottage, venturing into the winter cold to get to the bathroom. As Bloomberg reports, Lew is making the most of his old age. Lee is paring back and lightening her load as she looks ahead to her later years. Both worked all their lives, both saved what they could. “Timing is everything and my dad’s timing with jobs, real estate and retirement benefits was better,” said Lee. A rising tide of graying baby boomers is less secure financially and has a lower standard of living than their aged parents.
The median net worth for U.S. households headed by boomers aged 55 to 64 was almost 8 percent lower, at $143,964, than those 75 and older in 2011, according to Census Bureau data. Boomers lost more than other groups in the stock market and housing bust of 2008, and many also lost their jobs in the aftermath at a critical point in their productive years.
“Baby boomers are the first generation without the safety net of pensions and other benefits their parents have,” said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “They’re facing a much more challenging old age.”
Lee said she harbors no resentment for her dad, who she credits with instilling her with a strong work ethic. “I was never allowed to dream,” she said. “My parents and then my husband expected me to work, and I couldn’t really think about what I most wanted to do.”
Lee is hardly the only baby boomer who didn’t save enough, worked for companies without 401(k) accounts or lost significant amounts in the financial crisis. Today, her retirement savings of $120,000 are right at the median 401(k) balance for households headed by baby boomers, according to 2011 data from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
That will provide just $4,800 a year to boomers when they turn 65, assuming they take out 4 percent annually, the limit financial planners say should be withdrawn to assure retirees don’t run out of money in their lifetimes.
Had boomers like Lee been thriftier, they would have still been hurt by a shift to 401(k) accounts from pensions in the 1980s. Thirty-seven percent of the elderly in the U.S. collect pensions, which provide some guaranteed income until they die. Fewer than 10 percent of boomers collect pensions, and that number is quickly shrinking.
“She has never complained to me about not having enough money,” he said. “But if she needs it, I’ll advance it.”
Lee, who has repaid the money she borrowed, avoids dwelling on her difficulties during her weekly calls to her dad.
“I know he’ll help me if I fall off the ledge, but he taught me to be self-sufficient,” she said.
“It’s liberating finally getting to a point in my life where I don’t need a lot of stuff,” she said. “I felt like I was getting rid of the baggage of life that I’d kept dragging behind me and which was just weighing me down.”
Lee doesn’t regret downsizing her life. She has more time than ever to enjoy the outdoors, read and spend time with her friends.
“There’s so much pressure to keep up, to keep buying things, to stay on the treadmill always hoping to have more,” she said. “Well, less can be better.”
Much has been said about the key aspect of the Ponzi scheme behind America’s welfare state (if not enough where it matters as the three living Fed Chairmen currently joke around during the Fed’s shindig on the central bank’s 100th anniversary), namely that all those who have paid in money to entitlements, are entitled to benefit from entitlement distributions in the future. On paper this is absolutely correct, and in an efficient market, without capital allocation distortions this would work (ignoring that a Ponzi scheme, is, by definition, a Ponzi scheme and is reliant on ever greater inflows of money and participants or, as some may call them, suckers). More importantly, this is also fair. Sadly, as recent experiments within the Obama administration and elsewhere, most notably France, when the entire developed world has hit “peak debt” levels, the fairness doctrine no longer works, especially if and when it is enforced upon a destitute population.
Since we don’t live in a paper world, one should be able to quantify the disparity between the “haves” and the “have nots” when it comes to entitlements. This is precisely what Larry Kotlikoff did in August 2013 in “How the millennial generation will pay the price of Washington’s paralysis.” The results, charted, show what JPM’s Michael Cembalest has dubbed, accurately, “generational theft”, or the difference between how much excess some Americans will have received in government benefits (the older ones), compared to how great the funding deficit is for others – mostly young Americans, those who are about to graduated from college with record amounts of student loans (on average) and those yet unborn.
After you graduate, the US will be in the thick of the “generational theft” issue; here’s a heads-up on what this is all about. Generational accounting is an estimate of who benefits from and who pays for government programs. As shown in the first chart, the average person in the generation that turned 65 this year received $327 thousand dollars more in lifetime government benefits than they paid in Federal taxes. On the other hand, children born in the future (e.g., yours) will have a lifetime deficit on this basis of -$421 thousand dollars. If it sounds unfair, it is.
It seems that these days few things are fair. Which is perhaps why the rulers are desperate to do everything in their power to “enforce” their idea of fairness on everyone.
- Baby Boomers (woody452.wordpress.com)