Musings

No Easy Solution to Age Discrimination

MusingsIf you'd like to get an eye-opening perspective on age discrimination, read Chris Farrell's recent article on NextAvenue.org. He discusses a Supreme Court case which essentially sided with R. J. Reynolds, a company that allegedly discriminated against a 49-year old highly qualified job applicant named Richard Villarreal. Despite the 50-year old Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which in theory protects those 40 years and older from age discrimination in the workplace, the Supreme Court let a lower court ruling stand; Farrell writes "The courts dismissed Villarreal’s suit saying the ADEA claim he brought only protected existing employees, not job applicants. The courts also agreed with Reynolds that Villarreal hadn’t 'diligently' pursued why he didn’t hear back about his application."

Farrell points out "The Supreme Court and many lower courts increasingly defer to employers on hiring and employment decisions when it comes to what the ADEA calls 'reasonable factors other than age.' (For example, employers can justify as a reasonable business decision laying off their most expensive workers who happen to have seniority and are mostly older.)"

So if there is no legal recourse when you believe you have been discriminated against because of your age, what can you do? Chris Farrell has some excellent suggestions, but all of them put the onus on Congress or the federal EEOC to take action.

Farrell makes an impassioned plea to government and industry to institute a kind of hiring known as "safe harbor," along with training programs for older workers: "The timing may be propitious for an experiment combining safe-harbor hiring and well-funded training programs for older workers. After eight years of steady economic growth and an unemployment rate at 4.4 percent, employers are currently looking for workers. Yet management too often seems blind to the opportunities available from recruiting older applicants with skills, knowledge and experience."

Sadly, there is no easy solution to age discrimination, which puts many Boomers at risk in the job market. Maybe this is one reason an increasing number of Boomers choose to work for themselves.

Read Farrell's thoughtful article here: http://www.nextavenue.org/the-supreme-court-turns-its-back-on-age-discrimination/


Americans are Still Not Saving Enough for Retirement

MusingsIt is no wonder that more and more Boomers are staying in the workforce, maintaining either full-time or part-time positions or working for themselves. Many Boomers need to continue to work, because surveys indicate that Americans simply are not saving enough for retirement.

For example, a new AARP survey of 1,500 middle income workers ages 40 to 59 confirms that retirement savings take a back seat to other financial needs. According to AARP, "76 percent of respondents have accomplished significant financial goals such as buying a home, while more than 70 percent have paid off mortgages, student loans or credit card balances. Some 67 percent have saved for a family vacation. 

"But just 48 percent say they’ve saved enough to live comfortably through retirement. Nearly 30 percent say they forgo essentially free money by failing to get the full employer match in company-sponsored retirement plans; nearly 25 percent aren’t using recommended savings tactics such as setting aside automatic paycheck deductions."

AARP believes the problem is so serious that the organization has launched an interactive coaching tool to help people squirrel away retirement savings.

Under-funded retirement is really no surprise. Consider how the very nature of work and retirement has changed during our lifetime. It is exceedingly rare for an employee to remain at a company for many years, and just as rare for a company nowadays to provide a pension plan. Some companies offer to match retirement contributions made by employees, but the employee still has to pay into the plan from wages earned. Ironically, some jobs many once considered poor career choices from a monetary perspective, such as teaching or mid-level government positions, could now be considered attractive because of their health insurance or pension benefits.

In addition, the cost of goods and services continues to rise even as workers' wages remain stagnant. The average American family often has two incomes, but that is hardly enough to cover more than the basics of life. What if that family wants to send a child to college? It is likely they would have to start saving for that college education when the child is a toddler. Add to this the reality of monthly rent or mortgage payments, credit card debt, and putting aside some money for an emergency, and it is pretty obvious that saving for retirement is not a priority.

The fact is, "retirement" is just not a possibility for millions of Americans. There are many conditions that need to change for most people to be able to consider retiring. Boomers are often credited with redefining retirement, but I suspect part of the reason we are redefining retirement is not just because we want to, but because we have to. 


Mourning a Career Loss

MusingsRetirement expert Kerry Hannon recently said this in an article that appeared in USA Today: "People go into mourning when they retire. Your whole identity is caught up in who you are and what you did."

I'm guessing many Boomers, especially professionals, can relate to Kerry's claim. Those of us who toil for decades in the same career reach a significant point of conflict as we enter our Sixties. Some Boomers cannot see retiring from a career that is so much a part of them, while others may be anxious to try something different but fear the unknown. If your career has defined you, what happens to you when you leave your career?

There is life after a professional career. Part of it is realizing there is a person underneath, not just a professional, who has interests, desires, and skills that may be applicable to other areas. Hannon says, "You're not reinventing yourself, you're redeploying. Maybe you're taking what you're good at and redeploying into a new arena."

Hannon suggests that Boomers who want to continue to work beyond retirement age (and research indicates almost half of us do) prepare for a post-retirement career. She advises a five-year plan to ready yourself for a new challenge. That's critical, writes Hannon, "because it'll give you time to test your new career direction, be it through volunteering or converting a hobby into a stream of income."

Her steps, which are described in the article, include soul-searching, doing a test drive, networking, researching, and getting your finances in order. This is smart advice; most Boomers prepared for their careers, so why not prepare for post-careers? Retirement planning is not limited to finances -- it also involves life and second career planning.

Read the full USA Today article, "Here's the New Retirement Goal: Love Your Job and Keep Working." 


Avoiding the Dangers of "Staying Connected"

MusingsIncreasingly, Americans want to be instantly connected to each other and the wider world, no matter where we are, and the most common route for connectivity is the Internet. From a practical perspective, networking in a broader sense is really all-encompassing, making it possible to search for and access online information, shop online, use social media, get cash from an ATM, watch television, make phone calls, and more.

But, as you've seen in recent news headlines about cyberattacks, connecting can have consequences. Americans expect that makers of computer hardware and software, as well as network providers, take cybersecurity seriously and provide mechanisms to keep customers protected from viruses, malware, and cyberattacks. Even if they do, however, we need to take individual responsibility for protecting our own identities and personal information. This becomes all the more challenging when we expose ourselves to others online. As some of us find out, the online world can be more dangerous than we imagine.

Sadly, older Americans seem to be more vulnerable to online attacks and, perhaps even worse, to deception. According to the Department of Homeland Security, seniors are defrauded at twice the rate of the rest of the population. It can never be repeated too often: Never give out personal information online or over the phone if you are unsure of the authenticity of the person or organization asking for it. In addition, follow the basics of good online security practices: Never click on links in emails unless you know the sender, do not visit banking and other financial sites over public Wi-Fi networks, secure your smartphone with a password and/or fingerprint, and use passwords that are difficult to hack. On this last point, you might want to consider using a password manager, such as LastPass or Dashlane, for extra protection.

An excellent objective resource for Boomers concerned about cybersecurity is the Department of Homeland Security's "Stop. Think. Connect." resource guide. It has lots of helpful information and you can find it here: http://www.stcguide.com/explore/older-americans

All of us need to be conscious of cybersecurity, especially today. 


Working Past 65 Probably Means Embracing Compromise

MusingsOne of the biggest Boomer topics in news media, blogs, and newsletters is working past 65. I've discussed the trend numerous times in my blog. Boomers in general are interested in working past 65 for two primary reasons: remaining relevant (or feeling fulfilled) and continuing to earn income. Several big issues are likely to come up, however, such as:

  • Keeping your current job vs. taking a new job
  • Working full-time vs. working part-time
  • Staying in your field or making a career switch
  • Working for a specific need, such as to get benefits.

What Boomers who want to continue to work learn, sometimes the hard way, is that pretty much everything is a compromise. At 65 years of age or older, unless you are self-employed, your employability is viewed in a different light by most employers. The basic business decision for an employer is whether to retain or hire an older worker with a wealth of experience who very likely costs more, or hire a younger worker with current skills and potential who costs a lot less. For most employers, the choice is obvious, and the Boomer comes out on the losing end.

Compromise, therefore, becomes the name of the game if you want to stay in the work force. Writing for NextAvenue.org, Retirement expert Kerry Hannon offers five excellent rules for seniors who want to keep working and potentially switch careers. She suggests, for example, that Boomers who want a new career path should be prepared to take a pay cut. Compromise. She also says that you should be ready to negotiate benefits and possibly "trade" one benefit for another, depending on what is more important to you. Compromise. Read Kerry's entire article here: http://www.nextavenue.org/keep-working-60s-beyond/

It is admittedly difficult for Boomers who have had professional careers or have been in the same field for decades to find themselves struggling to remain in their current position, work in a new field, or even obtain a part-time job that is fulfilling. This is probably one reason a significant percentage of Boomers end up working for themselves.

There is no easy answer, and everyone's situation is different. But chances are you will have to, that's right, compromise.


Why Boomers Want to Age in Place

MusingsAs we age, we rely on people, places and things that are most familiar to us and give us comfort. For many people, aging also means a shrinking world in which a comfortable home is vitally important. This could be one reason that, according to AARP, more than 80 percent of people ages 65 and older want to stay in their homes as they age.

Staying in a home can be a challenge, however, if the home is not fit for aging in place. AARP estimates only about 1 percent of current homes are conducive to aging in place. This creates a difficult choice for many older Americans: Either they have to move or they need to upgrade their existing homes.

An excellent article on NextAvenue.org addresses the challenge head on. Will Your Home be Ready for Aging in Place? includes numerous suggestions for how to "redefine a home" to accommodate seniors. Among the ideas are the following:

  • Stairless entries
  • A gradual outdoor incline up to the entry instead of ramps
  • Doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers
  • Lever-style doorknobs
  • Lever-style faucet handles
  • Shallower countertops to put items in easier reach
  • Curbless shower stalls
  • Slip-resistant floors and lighter-color floors for greater visibility
  • Lower placement of light switches and higher placement of electrical outlets
  • More windows for better indoor light

Obviously, some improvements are minor, while others require significant remodeling. The key is something called "universal design," says Richard Duncan, executive director of the R.L. Mace Universal Design Institute in Asheville, NC. He tells NextAvenue, “You can call it 8-to-80 or lifelong-living [that] responds to people over their lifespan through all of life’s changes, not just when older.”

Check out the article here: http://www.nextavenue.org/home-ready-aging-in-place/ Food for thought!


Why 70-1/2 is a Magical Age

MusingsIf you're closing in on 70-1/2 years of age, you're about to reach a milestone that has been established by our government as a magical age. On the positive side, that's when you must start drawing from your retirement accounts without penalty (it's called "RMD," or Required Minimum Distribution). On the negative side, it's now time to pay the taxes on that income, although they are likely to be paid at a lower rate because of your age.

There are very specific rules related to drawing from your retirement accounts. According to Wharton business economics and public policy professor Olivia Mitchell, "The rules are specified related to your age. For example, beginning at age 70 1/2, you must take out about 3.7% of the total amount in your IRA and the same amount out of your 401K plans if you’re retired. By the time you’re 80, the percent goes up to about 5.5. And at age 100, you have to take out 15.9%."

Mitchell adds that things can get complicated if you're still working at age 70-1/2, or if you have retirement money spread across several accounts: "...wait until you’re 70 1/2 to start drawing down your retirement accounts as long as you’re not working. If you have several IRAs, the law says that you can amalgamate the total and take your required minimum distribution out of just one of them, so you don’t have to dip into each individually to get to the total. However, if you have several 401(k) plans from previous employers, you have to take it out of each one separately. So, it’s a little complicated."

Mitchell has some other sound advice about retirement accounts. You can listen to or read her comments here: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/are-you-ready-for-retirement/

I have a few comments on the matter myself.

First, I wish the government would make things easier, not more difficult, for retirees. It seems to me that the worst time to have to deal with complex financial issues is as you grow older. If you've had to deal with the wonderful world of Social Security and Medicare, you already know how convoluted things can be with these two programs for older Americans. Unfortunately, drawing on your own retirement accounts after you reach 70 isn't much easier.

Second, once again this reinforces the need for a trusted, objective financial planner. If you're already in your sixties and you don't have one, do not delay any longer. It is never too late to get solid financial advice, and with retirement account distributions coming up, it's essential. I have said it before on this blog, but I'll say it again: One of the smartest things my wife and I did early on in our marriage was to get a financial planner to help us. It made all the difference in the world.

Reaching that magical age of 70-1/2 can be a good thing in many respects, but making the right financial moves can make it better. 


Will Self-Driving Cars Help Reduce the Loss of Independence?

MusingsAccording to a recent article in The New York Times, "Nearly 16 million people 65 and older live in communities where public transportation is poor or nonexistent. That number is expected to grow rapidly as baby boomers remain outside of cities." The article went on to discuss why self-driving cars may be the answer for such aging Boomers. Joseph Coughlin, the director of the MIT AgeLab, was quoted in the article, saying, “The aging of the population converging with autonomous vehicles might close the coming mobility gap for an aging society.” Coughlin also said that 92 percent of older people want to age in place.

Reading this article got me thinking about the larger issue for aging Boomers: the loss of independence. I lived through the loss of independence with my mother over fifteen years ago. When she broke her hip in her late eighties, her independence became a thing of the past. It also led to a quick decline. Coupled with the onset of dementia, her physical and mental infirmities made it impossible for her to age in place. After trying to maintain her independence in her condominium with the help of home health care aides, I had to make the decision to move her to a nursing home. She died not long after the relocation.

Today, my wife is the primary caretaker for her 93-year old mother. While her mother is in excellent health and lives independently, she can no longer drive. Whether it's shopping, day trips, or short outings, my wife and I take responsibility for the transportation.

Caring for older parents is increasingly common among Boomers, even as they age themselves. It offers a look into our own future as we see first-hand what it would be like to lose our independence. For some of us, aging in place may be a viable option. For others with means, an assisted living facility or continuing care retirement community may be the answer. Today, there's always Uber and Lyft, but tomorrow, it sure would be nice to know that such things as self-driving cars could extend our independence as long as possible.  


The Good News and Bad News About Longevity

MusingsYou've probably seen news about current actuarial reports projecting increased longevity. For men and women who reach the age of 65, their life expectancy is now over 85 years of age (86.6 for men and 88.8 for women).

This is both good and bad news for Boomers. The good news is we'll live a lot longer past what was once the traditional retirement age of 65. The bad news is some of us could very well run out of money.

That's why you might want to read retirement expert Mark Miller's excellent article in The New York Times, "How to Make Your Money Last as Long as You Do." In it, Miller discusses a number of steps Boomers can take for "mitigating longevity risk," among them:

  1. Create a budget projection that accounts for non-discretionary expenses
  2. Recognize when it is wise to begin drawing Social Security benefits
  3. Consider continuing to work full-time or part-time
  4. Consider an annuity.

Miller's article includes specific information about each of the above steps. It also includes an interesting table that shows three scenarios for the possibility of a retirement plan failing.

This kind of information is essential for Boomers to consider and digest. It also reinforces the fact that most Boomers would do well to work with a financial advisor who can help plan the best retirement savings and lifestyle strategies so you won't run out of money in your later years.


About Marketing to Boomers

MusingsI spent the majority of my professional career in direct marketing and advertising, disciplines in which practitioners always work hard to fully understand the characteristics of target audiences. Not surprisingly, there are some marketing firms that have not only figured out that Boomers are a fertile target audience, these firms also specialize in marketing to Boomers.

One such firm, Coming of Age, is an industry leader. Established by Jim Gilmartin in 1991, Coming of Age positions itself as  "The Baby Boomer & Senior Marketing Agency." Jim writes frequently about the Boomer audience, and a recent column of his for MediaPost caught my eye. In it, Jim pinpoints some of the characteristics of the Baby Boomer Consumer, demonstrating rare and fascinating insight into this audience.

Since my assumption is that most readers of my blog are in fact Boomers, I thought I would share Jim's perspective with you. He highlights these six characteristics:

  1. Baby Boomers are less subject to peer influence than are younger consumers.
  2. Baby Boomers tend to be less responsive to sweeping claims in marketing messages as they age.
  3. Baby Boomers tend to be quicker than younger consumers to reflect a lack of interest in or negative reaction to an offered product that doesn't make an emotional connection.
  4. Baby Boomers tend to show increased response to marketing appeals reflecting altruistic values.
  5. Baby Boomers spend more time in making purchase decisions.
  6. Baby Boomers often project what seems to be contradictory behavior.

I think Jim really hits the nail on the head. I encourage you to read his entire article here. Even though it is intended for marketing professionals, it will give you a real understanding of the implications of these characteristics -- and maybe, just maybe, allow for a little self-reflection as well!