IS PITTSBURGH READY FOR THE 'SILVER TSUNAMI'? AS BOOMERS RETIRE, OR PREPARE TO, WHAT AWAITS AMERICA'S POST-WAR GENERATION? Series: GENERATIONAL SHIFT

By Toland, Bill | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

IS PITTSBURGH READY FOR THE 'SILVER TSUNAMI'? AS BOOMERS RETIRE, OR PREPARE TO, WHAT AWAITS AMERICA'S POST-WAR GENERATION? Series: GENERATIONAL SHIFT


Toland, Bill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Brought on by the earthquake of world war, this tsunami has been 70 years in the making.

By 2029, one-fifth of the U.S. population will be 65 or older, and many of those 76 million or so post-war baby boomers - perhaps up to 50 million of them - will be exiting the workforce over the same period.

They'll consume more medical care, even as their collective retirement will remove hundreds of thousands of doctors and nurses from the field. They'll need retirement planning services, particularly as they are likely to live into their 80s. They'll be downsizing their homes.

In short, the oncoming "silver tsunami" will be a potentially seismic force upon the regional, U.S. and world economies - most developed countries are far grayer than America - in ways good, and bad.

How bad? Depends on who you ask. There's no doubt the baby boom was historically big by U.S. and world standards, but some analyses suggest the impact of the retirements won't be as dramatic as has often been predicted. Given that Americans continue to work well past 65 and that tens of millions of boomers never entered the workforce in the first place, it's possible that the U.S. retirement rate will stay relatively constant or tick up modestly over the next two decades.

But even if they keep working, boomers have other challenges ahead of them, and few know what to expect of this "silver tsunami" cohort better than Richard Schulz, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. He's also the director of gerontology of the University Center for Social and Urban Research, and the associate director of Pitt's Institute on Aging. Most of his career has been spent studying the senior population and the psychological aspects of aging.

In November, Mr. Schulz and the social and urban research center published "The State of Aging in Allegheny County," a detailed study of our region's seniors and near-seniors. He discussed those findings last week.

Q. The leading edge of the baby boom, the ones born between 1946 and 1955, are already retiring, or thinking about it. What does that mean for the local workforce?

A. "We have about 130,000 people who are between the ages of 55 and 64 [in Allegheny County]. They represent a very large portion of the workforce in the county and a large portion of the higher- earning workforce in the county. And that group, as they move into old age, will need to be replaced."

Q. Are they prepared for retirement?

A. "People feel more insecure about their future financial status, including how they might do in retirement. One consequence of that [is] people are delaying retirement."

Q. What about Pittsburgh-area seniors?

A. "Compared to the U.S. overall, our seniors report feeling better prepared. They have relatively little debt to worry about ... it's a legacy of having an older population that still benefited from pension programs ... low cost of living factors in, in a big way. [You] don't see the massive gentrification that you see in other cities, which drives up prices drastically."

Q. But the boomers themselves ...

A. "Seventeen percent of current workers [aged 55-64] report that their current level of debt is higher than it was five years ago. ... [The economy] has been tough in a real sense, in that people have had little increases in pay. They may have lost money during that [recession] period, as a result of investments they made."

Q. As baby boomers retire, how does that affect the regional economy?

A. "It is important to appreciate that older people contribute about $7 billion to the local economy through the monies they bring in through Social Security and Medicare. Those monies support a lot of jobs in the region. I'm guessing it's about 10 percent of the [local] GDP is accounted for by monies brought in by older individuals."

Q. Presumably, business opportunities arise as boomers retire and as our country gets grayer. …

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