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Baby boomers reach retirement, questions about costs begin

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

Some demographers declare there are, in fact, three generations of boomers. In its detailed analysis, MetLife says "leading edge" boomers include those born 1946-51, a group that includes Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, David Letterman and Meryl Streep.

They came of age against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the battles for civil and women's rights. Told they were old enough to die in the war at age 18, they demanded the vote at that age, as well. They responded to President John F. Kennedy's call to better their country and shared Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream. They were the generation that openly defied their parents when it came to sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Though they make up just 27 percent of boomers, they typify many of the cultural characteristics associated with the entire generation, MetLife says. They were the first generation for whom college was common. About 77 percent of them are now grandparents, many actually raising their grandchildren.

Attorney Payne and South Jordan accountant Ed Worthington were born in 1956 and 1958 respectively. The mid-boomers, born between 1952 and 1958, were the biggest segment, at 38 percent. Some engaged in the '60s social revolution, but many were too young. Mid-boom women migrated into the workforce en masse. And they are still in prime earning years, so they may be able to recover from the losses of the 2008 recession, One of their challenges will be funding what could be a long, resource-sapping retirement. Al Sharpton, Bob Costas, Condaleeza Rice and Donnie Osmond are all middle boomers.

Young boomers were born between 1959 and 1964 and not all of them even identify themselves that way. Jonathon Pontell, a cultural historian, said those born in 1954 to at least 1965 were really "Generation Jones." The WiseGeek Website notes that the "statistical importance of Generation Jones can't be overestimated. They were the early computer pioneers and include people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Further, they have a strong tendency to influence elections and they are an extremely valuable market group to advertisers." These "Jonesers" are, it notes, about a third of all Internet users. Older boomers, too, have become adept at navigating the Web and social media.

"Trailing edge" boomers represent 36 percent of the cohort. They tend to be more sober, influenced by a shrinking economy and damaged national stature. Magic Johnson, Marie Osmond, Sara Palin and Barack O'Bama are among the boomer babies, most of whom will live another 30 years or more. They may have children at home, two incomes and still, experts say, they're not preparing financially to retire.

EVERYBODY'S DIFFERENT

If you sat down with Millard, Payne, Worthington and Tera White, all boomers, it would be clear how wide an umbrella the term baby boom is.

Millard, main telephone operator for Intermountain Healthcare's corporate office, is a grandmother 29 times now, her children and stepchildren grown. Her husband Kenneth, an architect and city planner whose credits included Nauvoo, died three years ago.

Her house is paid off and she's fairly secure. She works three days a week, but has no interest in retiring completely. Her nest is too empty and quiet. Once the youngest in her crowd, Millard says she looks around and she's the oldest in her ward, the years creeping up while she was doing other things. Following a bad fall, she feels more fragile than she did a decade ago.

She wants to do a bucket list while she can. "I'm trying to figure out what it is I want to do."

White is thinking about what she wants to do, too, but from the other side of the baby boom. She's not thinking of things she'd like to do before she dies. Born at the end of the boom, she's no longer married and that has changed her financial picture. She's been a stay at home mom and though she's at a peak employment age, she hasn't worked for a long time. Going back is daunting. Should she try to find work with benefits? she wonders. She's heard there's not much out there now. Maybe she'll take her chance with her old career as a hairdresser.

Somewhere between them on the spectrum are mid-boomers Payne and Worthington.

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