Give me your tired, your poor, your aging baby boomers

Woodstock Music Festival

Believe it or not: Everyone who went to Woodstock is old enough to collect social security. Photo by Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell.

The generation that wore bell-bottoms and tie-dye shirts, smoked pot, marched for peace, started a sexual revolution and vowed never to become part of the establishment is getting old. I mean geriatric old. The oldest baby boomers are turning 70 this year.

I’m a boomer myself, but I came a little later. I missed out on Woodstock and was too young for Vietnam. Yet I see plenty of gray hair when I look in the mirror.

My generation was supposed to “stay forever young.” After all, we’re the “me” generation, and the biggest self-indulgence for us has been our bodies—making sure we stay healthy and active and don’t get old and flabby.

Baby boomers jogged, Jazzercised, Bowflexed and Botoxed their way past 50, pushing the boundaries of middle age. First 40 was the new 30. Then 60 was the new 50. Now 70 is the new 60. Baby boomers don’t slow down. They just get knee replacements and pain injections.

Hate to say it, but a lot of people in my generation now carry AARP cards, ask for senior discounts, collect social security and have a calendar full of doctor’s appointments.

I read some statistics recently about baby boomers that really surprised me. If you’re a boomer, you might want to sit down because all those fantasies you’ve had about being young, invincible and healthy are about to get crushed. Sorry.

  • Researchers at West Virginia University found that baby boomers are more likely than their parents to have chronic diseases, and 39 percent of boomers are obese (compared to 29 percent of adults in the previous generation).
  • Boomers are also more inactive, with 52 percent of them reporting no physical activity (compared with only 17.4 percent of the previous generation). Baby boomers are also more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol than their parents.
  • Overall, 32 percent of adults in the previous generation reported they were in “excellent” health compared to only 13 percent of baby boomers.

How can this be? The generation that supposedly made healthy eating and fitness a lifestyle choice has been backsliding. Too many hours sitting in front of a computer; too many processed foods and snacks; and too many micro-beers.

The upshot is that our generation is expected to live longer but be sicker. And the bad news doesn’t stop there. We’ve fallen short compared to our parents when it comes to retirement savings, too.

We may be the first generation to enter our golden years less well off than previous generations. A lot of it has to do with the demise of the traditional pension plan and the shift to 401(k) plans.

  • Only 4.2 percent of employees aged 50-55 have a pension benefit, notes the Center for Retirement Research. In comparison, 37 percent of those 75 and older receive pension benefits.
  • A Fidelity Investments survey found that almost half of all baby boomers will not be able to sufficiently cover basic living expenses in retirement without making adjustments to their lifestyles.
  • On top of that, boomers took the biggest hit to their net worth during the recession. And many who lost their jobs as a result of the downturn have not been able to find work that pays as well.
  • The Center for Retirement Research reports that the typical household facing retirement has only $42,000 in 401(k) savings and will rely on social security for 70 percent of retirement income.

Wow.

No wonder suicides are up for baby boomers. Since 2007, boomers have had the highest rate of suicide of any age group in the U.S., when, historically, people between the ages of 40 and 64 have had one of the lowest rates.

But let’s not go there. Instead, let’s vow to eat healthy, exercise regularly and throw a few more dollars into our 401(k) plans. We’re not getting any younger, you know.

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