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Baby boomers reach retirement, questions about costs begin

Published: Sunday, Dec. 26 2010 12:12 a.m. MST

Or redeem, which was the call from Michael Kinsley two months ago in The Atlantic in an article called "The Least We Can Do": "Self-absorbed and self-indulged, the postwar generation is leaving a bitter legacy: crumbling infrastructure, crushing public debt and a reflexive cynicism about all institutions, from churches to Congress to the media." He suggests boomers cough up about $14 trillion to fix things. Yet even he notes the contradiction: The boomer tech revolution revived capitalism. Boomers bought their own education with student loans, the first to arrive at adulthood in debt, then paid for their parents to retire "in greater comfort than they themselves can reasonably expect." Many have supported their children well into adulthood.

Many boomers in their formative years watched the Watergate scandal and President Nixon's resignation and Wright says they "forged a new attitude about the role of the executive branch that still rages today." Too diverse to be loyal to one political party, they have nonetheless voted in large numbers for nearly a half-century. "What intrigues me is how they will vote as a larger 'older' voting bloc in the near future." Will they think of a future beyond themselves? he wonders. "Will they vote for legacy or larceny?"

"Our ultimate delivery is how we're going to transform growing old and what it means to have a long life. Our contributions are far from over," says Thornhill.

"THE MAKINGS OF A FINANCIAL DISASTER"

Boomers have been called the build and spend generation, the instant-gratification crowd, the first to use credit to achieve their parent's living standard quickly without earning it. They are better educated than previous generations, but some have drug abuse and other issues not encountered at their age before.

For many reasons, boomers are blazing their own path into old age. Many will choose to work well past 65; others will have no choice because of poor financial planning. Insurer MetLife says fewer than half of boomers it surveyed plan to retire before 69.

For some, retirement won't be an option until their 70s or beyond if they want to maintain a lifestyle. And the boomers who have saved for retirement find themselves in worse shape than they'd expected because of the recession, which wiped out a lot of investments.

Nearly half are at risk of running out of money during retirement, says the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Some of them will try to maintain their lifestyle and go broke in 5 or 10 years, one of its officials said. Others will try to scale down discretionary spending.

"Until two-and-a-half years ago, I'd have said yes, I was financially prepared for retirement," says Doug Payne, a Salt Lake attorney and baby boomer. "Not now. Based on recent economic events, I think we were on the edge of a precipice of economic meltdown, at least potentially. I'm a little more insecure than I was."

More than a few experts predict that boomers will bust the nation's economy.

Baby boomers make up more than 70 million people in a nation of 300 million, says Danny Brock, a financial advisor at Brock and Associates. "This will cause devastating effects as baby boomers are pulling dollars out of the stock market and paying off debts," he predicts.

He also sees a generation that's used to being taken care of. "People are more worried about what the government can do for them than what they can do for themselves," he says. "If they continue to live paycheck to paycheck, they won't have enough because Social Security won't cut it."

Some boomers have unrealistic expectations, says Utah Commission on Aging director Maureen Henry. "That's one area where we absolutely are not ready, because the landscape of retirement financing has changed so dramatically. Surveys show that more people think they have pensions than actually do. They're not saving, or are saving at very low-rates for retirement, yet they think that things like long-term care will be paid by Medicare, which it won't. It's a looming crisis that won't hit when they turn 65, but in 10 to 30 years."

Add in a much longer lifespan, adds Mark Supiano, director of the U. Center on Aging and chief of the division of geriatrics at the VA Hospital, and you have the makings of a financial disaster, both personally and nationally. "It sounds obvious, but stay healthy. Do whatever you can to prevent disabling conditions and long-term function that will lead you to require long-term care," he advises.

MORE DIFFERENT THAN ALIKE

A chasm exists between the oldest and youngest baby boomers. "Being a baby boomer does not make you part of an affinity group," says Thornhill. "It's a label. All generations find differences across the generation."

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