Future Work and Retirement Needs: Policy Experts and Baby Boomers Express Their Views

By Simon-Rusinowitz, Lori; Wilson, Laura B. et al. | Generations, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Future Work and Retirement Needs: Policy Experts and Baby Boomers Express Their Views


Simon-Rusinowitz, Lori, Wilson, Laura B., Marks, Lori N., Krach, Constance A., Welch, Catherine, Generations


Once aging baby boomers enter their mid sos and 60s, they will change the shape and scope of retirement. Some will be more affluent than today's retirees. Some will start new careers for pleasure, while others-especially women and minorities-will continue to work because they must. Unless some fundamental policy changes are implemented, more boomers will be spending their later years working just to make ends meet.

Although baby boomers on average will be better off than today's elders, about six million of America's elderly are currently living below or near the poverty level (Administration on Aging, 1997). Experts are concerned about women and minorities, who constitute a large percentage of the elderly poor. Almost 75 percent of elders living in poverty are women (Ozawa, 1993), while 25 percent of elderly blacks and 24 percent of elderly Hispanics live in poverty (Administration on Aging, 1997). Policies and programs in effect now or enacted in the next few years-like the proposed Comprehensive Women's Pension Protection Act and the 1997 Retirement Security Act, for example-could help many boomers prevent financial woes at retirement.

Many questions remain unanswered about the future employment and retirement needs of the next generation of older Americans. For example, what current policy trends will influence the work, retirement, and volunteer needs and options for aging baby boomers? How will these trends specifically affect the men, women, and minorities of this population? What should boomers do to prepare themselves for their years as older workers and retirees? What should policy makers, employers, planners, and others do to prepare for the aging of this large population?

As a step toward answering such questions, this article presents findings from in-depth interviews conducted in 1994 with policy experts and researchers and from focus groups of baby boomers between the ages of 40 and 48, also conducted late in that year.

EXPERTS' VIEWS

The policy experts interviewed were a group of twenty-two researchers and policy makers from federal and state agencies, universities, private corporations, a national aging organization, and a labor union. These individuals represent a broad array of policy perspectives and disciplines, including economics, income security, labor and retirement policy, corporate eldercare, and healthcare. The interviews focused on the experts' views about trends affecting the employment and retirement needs of aging boomers, potential problems facing this population, and proposed policy solutions.

Impact of economic trends on spectfic groups. The experts said that the first wave of boomers, those born between 1946 and 1954, will most likely fare better financially than the second wave, those born between 1955 and 1964, as the older boomers benefited from a healthier economy in their young adulthood. The experts also said that older baby boomers will see a greater gap between the "haves" and "have nots" than is the case among current elders. Boomers with lower levels of education, lower wages, limited workforce attachment, and limited pensions will be at a higher risk of being poor in old age, and women and minorities-especially single minority women-will be disproportionately represented among the "have nots." This situation will be influenced by their degree of workforce and pension participation, marital status, and degree of caregiving responsibilities.

Some baby boomer women will have more retirement income than their mothers and grandmothers, but only if their greater workforce attachment actually results in higher earnings, Social Security benefits, and pension coverage. Wage inequities and time away from the workforce because of caregiving often mean that working women receive the same Social Security benefits as full-time homemakers.

Another point the experts made was that economic issues influence the healthcare available to individuals and may affect their quality of life and health status in later years. …

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