Musings

A Boomer's Take on DE&I

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Have you noticed the term “DE&I” bandied about lately by politicians, business leaders and heads of institutions? If you’re “woke,” then you know it stands for “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.” What does that really mean? In the context of government or business policies, it basically represents treating everyone equally, regardless of social standing, race, sexual preference or any other distinguishing characteristic. Think of it as a three-legged stool that broadly applies to welcoming in people of less-privileged identities. Here are definitions of each of the three legs from Independent Sector:

Diversity “includes all the ways in which people differ, encompassing the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another,” including identity markers such as race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, and more. It also takes intersectional diversity into account, when people’s identity is made of a number of underrepresented identities.

Equity is “the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Improving equity involves increasing justice and fairness within the procedures and processes of institutions or systems, as well as in their distribution of resources.”

Inclusion is “the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people.”

Sadly, it seems that awareness of DE&I is a recent occurrence. It’s only now, because of the compelling roles played by such movements as “MeToo” and “Black Lives Matter,” that our society has reawakened to issues of inequality that have been festering for decades. Thankfully, many Americans are finally realizing that there really are significant inequities in our society, made even more vivid due to the pandemic. The fact is, the old saying is still true in our country: “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”

As a Boomer, I have to wonder where American leaders have been for the last fifty-plus years. Wasn’t it our generation that helped fight for DE&I in the Sixties? Didn’t many of us protest, march, sit in, get jailed and even die in support of civil rights, racial and gender equality and social justice? Yet, those Boomers in positions of power today, struck by a serious case of amnesia, boast about their commitment to DE&I like it’s something new.

Don’t get me wrong — I for one am heartened to see that DE&I is very much in vogue right now. Despite the current movement to restrict voting rights in several states (thereby disenfranchising America's most under-served populations), it’s particularly encouraging to see the recent recognition of societal inequity by the federal government. Still, I truly hope that people in power are not merely paying lip service to DE&I in an effort to trade on its PR value. They need to understand the depth of its meaning and make a real commitment to fundamental change.

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Envisioning an Intergenerational World

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Ageism is a global issue, as I indicated in my previous post. One powerful and potentially lasting way to fight against ageism is to foster greater connections between older and younger generations. The generational divide -- caused as much by tribalism as by age -- may seem difficult to overcome, but there are beacons of light in the darkness that can help us envision an intergenerational world. Here are three innovative examples:

Encore.org - Encore is a vanguard in bringing together generations. According to this nonprofit organization, "For the first time in U.S. history, people over 60 outnumber people under 18, raising fears of widening generational divides. Encore.org sees another path — a more-old-than-young society that works for all generations. By accelerating intergenerational solutions to pressing social problems from literacy to loneliness, Encore.org bridges divides and collaborates across generations to create a better future together." Founder Marc Freedman writes eloquently about the topic, and Encore.org affirms its commitment by sponsoring "Gen2Gen" fellowships.

Mon Ami - Two Stanford MBAs, Madeline Dangerfield-Cha and Joy Zhang, co-founded Mon Ami to challenge the asumption that "young is immature and old obsolete." In an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, they write, "The organization began as a direct service platform, leveraging gig technology to match older adults and their families with college students, who visited weekly to engage in social activities such as playing Scrabble, writing memoirs, and going on walks. ... By March 2020, when COVID-19 hit, hundreds of students enrolled at colleges in the Bay Area of California had provided more than 10,000 hours of companionship to older adults, either in their homes or at their assisted living facilities." In their article, Dangerfield-Cha and Zhang cite two other tech apps/platforms, "Papa" and "Big& Mini," that are innovating in this space.

UpsideHom - Highlighted recently by The Longevity Project, UpsideHom is a startup that focuses on intergenerational living. Launched last year in Florida, the company's goal "is to allow older people to age in place inside multi-generational living communities, primarily apartment buildings that do not necessarily cater to the needs of older renters. To support that, they offer fully-supported units inside these apartment communities – bundling together furniture, maintenance, housekeeping services and so forth – to make it easier to age in place." Founder and CEO Jake Rothstein told The Longevity Project in an interview, "Aging in place versus aging in the right place is something that people really need to think about. ...this decision is a very, very big one, an impactful one that affects themselves and the family members that care for them. Building trust throughout the journey is a real challenge, and probably one that traditional assisted living facilities face as well. ...Educating people in order to build that trust is really the biggest challenge, I would say."

These examples are both inspiring and prescient. Each of them suggests in their own way the potential for generations to interact, learn from each other and potentially live side by side. What better way to combat ageism than to have generations understand, appreciate, assist and respect one another.

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Ageism is a Global Issue

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Who would think that WHO (the World Health Organization) would launch something called the "Global Campaign to Combat Ageism"? But they just did, stating this compelling reason:

"Ageism is the stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people on the basis of their age. Ageism is pervasive and has profound negative consequences on older adults' health and wellbeing. We need to act now to improve the lives of people everywhere. In response to a call from Member States, WHO is leading and working with other stakeholders on a Global Campaign to Combat Ageism that aims to build a world for all ages by changing the way we think, feel and act towards age and ageing."

In WHO's 200-plus Global Report on Ageism, the organization reports, "Globally, one in two people are ageist against older people." WHO says "Ageism has serious and far-reaching consequences for people's health, well-being and human rights. For older people, ageism is associated with a shorter lifespan, poorer physical and mental health, slower recovery from disability and cognitive decline. Ageism reduces older people's quality of life, increases their social isolation and loneliness (both of which are associated with serious health problems), restricts their ability to express their sexuality and may increase the risk of violence and abuse against older people."

WHO believes three strategies can reduce ageism: Policy and law, educational interventions and intergenerational contact interventions. The organization's three recommendations for action are:

  1. Invest in evidence-based strategies to prevent and tackle ageism.
  2. Improve data and research to get a better understanding of ageism and how to reduce it.
  3. Build a movement to change the narrative around age and ageing.

In an effort to jumpstart the campaign, WHO has created a "Toolkit" for anyone who wants to help fight ageism. It includes resources to inspire conversations, organize events and spread the word via social media and other methods. I have included a link to the Toolkit (PDF) here:

Download Combat-ageism-toolkit

American Boomers are in a unique position: We ourselves are often victims of ageism, especially in the workplace. But we are also one of the most appropriate groups to combat ageism. I encourage everyone -- of any age -- to download the Toolkit and join the fight. Ageism is a global issue, and as WHO says, "It is time to say no to ageism."

Image: World Health Organization

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All Hail the Centenarians

Musings

Characters-3533352_1920We've all been focused on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of late due to the pandemic -- so this is one piece of data from the CDC you may have missed: The growth of the country's 100-plus age group is impressive; it has increased by 44 percent since 2000. There are currently about 92,000 centenarians in the U.S., 80 percent of whom are women.

Reaching the ripe old age of 100 was unthinkable for our parents, and it still may be out of reach for many Boomers. But hitting the century mark is not out of the question, even for us. We don't have direct control over that chronological achievement -- as much as 40 to 50 percent of longevity is due to genetic factors, according to Dr. Thomas Perls, professor of medicine and geriatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, as quoted in The New York Times. Perls said about one in 5,000 Americans are likely to make it to 100 years of age.

Still, whether we reach 100 or not, most of us are living much longer than previous generations, and that mans we need to look at life differently. Consultant Mitch Anthony, author of "Life Centered Financial Planning," told John Wasik of The Times there are three important questions we need to answer: "What do you want out of life, what gives you joy, and how do you pay for it?"

Research suggests that having a sense of purpose, finding personal happiness, and remaining active and vital all contribute to living a longer life. Still, two of the biggest challenges as we age are health and money. A majority of Boomers think they want to "age in place" -- a nice thought, but certainly more difficult as the aging process progresses. In addition, failing health almost inevitably is associated with aging. Dr. Perls offers "TheLivingTo100" calculator to assess potential longevity based on forty health and lifestyle factors.

As for money, well, even those of us who have wisely engaged a financial planner may be surprised to learn that we could quite possibly outlive our nest egg. James Brewer, a certified financial planner with Envision Wealth Planning in Chicago, told The Times, "A lot can happen over ten decades, especially over the last three. It's important to review your wealth-transfer and personal wishes annually." Obviously, any financial plan should include not just an annual review but a periodic projection of how long your money might be expected to last. It's best to know about potential shortfalls early enough so you can take corrective action.

One thing we can all be confident of: Living until or even past 100 is becoming more and more possible every day. We can also be pretty sure that turning 100 is not for sissies!

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The Healthy Boomer Brain

Musings Jesse-martini-Iod3vdjKE1E-unsplashAn estimated 6.2 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's dimentia, according to the Alzheimer's Association. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer's or another dimentia. Between 2000 and 2019, deaths due to Alzheimer's more than doubled, increasing 145 percent. There was a 16 percent increase in deaths from Alzheimer's in 2020 over the previous five years; the COVID-19 pandemic is believed to be at least partially responsible for the increase.

As sobering as these statistics are, they represent the most serious aspects of brain deterioration during aging. The fact is that millions of Boomers may suffer from other conditions that affect the brain. For example, 10 to 20 percent of those older than 65 are diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). The Mayo Clinic describes MCI as "the stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It's characterized by problems with memory, language, thinking or judgment." MCI911.com is an excellent website started by a physician that offers a wealth of authoritative information about Mild Cognitive Impairment, including research and helpful resources.

The world of science is studying brain decline, and online tools are now becoming available to assess brain health. One example is the new Synaptitude Brain Health Lifestyle Assessment, developed by a Canadian team led by Dr. Max Cynader, founding director of the Djavad Mowafagian Center for Brain Health in British Columbia. This assessment evaluates brain health by asking questions in five areas: sleep, exercise, stress, nutrition and cognition. Synaptitude uses the assessment to determine if individuals can benefit from its "Brain Fitness" program.

As indicated above, a healthy brain is directly related to lifestyle factors. Experts recommend that brains be "exercised" just like bodies. Lots of information about improving brain health is available through various sources that address Boomer issues, such as AARP (https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/), NextAvenue (https://www.nextavenue.org/best-way-improve-brain-health/) and the American Federation for Aging Research (https://www.afar.org/news/grantee-in-the-news-kristine-yaffe-on-lifestyle-tips-to-enhance-brain-healt).

Boomers need to be hyper-aware of maintaining a healthy brain, especially in stressful times like these. The brain is, after all, the most valuable asset we have.

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How to Navigate Post-Career "Retirement"

BooksI've long been a fan of the concept of "rewirement" instead of retirement. If 2020 taught Boomers nothing else, it is that the word "retirement" needs to be retired and thrown into the lexicon dustbin. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. The pandemic required many of us to reconsider our work lives. Our jobs may have ended prematurely, or the financial hit of the pandemic was severe enough to cause us to need to work beyond traditional retirement.
  2. Pandemic or not, many of us want to continue to work beyond traditional retirement because it gives us additional financial security and/or purpose in life.

Still, younger Boomers approaching that magical retirement age of 65 may be pondering exactly how they can navigate their post-career retirement years -- if indeed they retire at all. I've read several books that address this very subject. One of the more engaging ones is the new book, Retirement Heaven or Hell: 9 Principles for Designing Your Ideal Post-Career Lifestyle by Mike Drak.

When Mike involuntarily left a career after more than three decades in financial services, he entered what he calls "Retirement Hell." Through trial and error, he found his path to "Retirement Heaven" and decided to write a book about his experience to help others navigate this challenging transition. Typical of the wry wit in the book is Mike's pronouncement, "Think of me as a retirement crash test dummy." Mike shares some excellent advice, offering nine specific principles designed to help readers enjoy "an exceptional retirement." He discusses each principle in detail and lays out an action plan for how to move forward into new territory.

Interspersed throughout the book are Mike's salient observations about his own journey. He also includes numerous snippets concerning how the pandemic shaped his thinking and the impact it inevitably has on retirement planning. These elements make the book both personal and timely. In the end, Mike encourages us to strive to become "Retirement Rebels." Mike suggests these folks "are the trailblazers who have regained the curiosity and wonder of a child, traveling the world to see and experience new places, entering marathons in different cities, learning to use new technology, volunteering, starting new businesses, and posting all about it on social media."

Retirement Heaven or Hell is a worthwhile read for any Boomers about to take their next step or those who have already entered their post-careers and need some guidance and encouragement. If you want to order the book from Amazon, I've included a direct link below.

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The Lingering Effects of 2020

Musings Covid-19-5144238_1920Chances are Americans -- and certainly Boomers -- will be happy to see the year 2020 come to a close. Too many of us have had to deal with the unanticipated health, social and financial impacts of the pandemic. And it is likely that the effects of 2020 will linger long into next year.

One of the key financial challenges for Boomers is the "COVID recession." According to retirement expert Teresa Ghilarducci of The New School, "about 50 percent of workers over the age of 55 will be poor or near-poor adults when they reach 65." One of the reasons for this, says Ghilarducci, is that "Older workers are losing their jobs at a faster rate, relative to younger people and relative to where they had been before than they were in the Great Recession. ...When older workers lose their jobs, they lose access to savings. They lose their employer's contribution, and they face the temptation of drawing down their retirement assets."

Still, those Boomers with at least $100,000 in investable assets, including their retirement savings, are more optimistic, reports Charles Schwab, based on its "2020 Modern Retirement Survey." The survey of 2,000 Americans age 55 to 75 indicates that 84 percent believe their quality of life in retirement will be better than that of their parents. On average, the survey respondents have accumulated $920,400 in retirement savings, and 82 percent of them think this amount will take them "all the way" or "most of the way" to living out the retirement of their dreams. But Rob Williams, VP of financial planning and retirement income at Charles Schwab cautions that this amount "will only last about seven years at their expected spending rate." He says that Boomers "may have other sources of income like Social Security, but the only way retirees can make sure the math adds up is by putting pen to paper and having a plan in writing."

TIAA's recent "Financial Resiliency Survey" provides a broader look at the American public's view of the future. In July, TIAA surveyed 3,040 Americans age 25 to 70 with a household income of at least $40,000. Nearly 60 percent of adults said the pandemic caused financial stress, and now two-thirds of them want to save more money. One third of respondents had their employment affected, 26 percent took on more debt and 18 percent were forced to dip into an emergency fund. Despite this, 90 percent of workers said saving for retirement is a current financial goal -- but only 40 percent think they are on track with their retirement savings and 27 percent said they are far from on track. One key problem is that Americans generally don't look far enough ahead: 56 percent said they only consider the next 12 months when it comes to financial planning, and less than 3 in 10 individuals said they typically consider 5-plus years into the future. When asked what contributes most to financial resiliency, 59 percent of those age 60 to 70 and 53 percent of those age 50 to 59 said "having more set aside in retirement savings."

How does your thinking compare with the Boomers who responded to the above surveys? Are you looking ahead with cautious optimism as we prepare to enter next year? Here's hoping the lingering effects of 2020 are short-lived -- and 2021 brings a semblance of sanity and a financial rebound for all of us.

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Designing a Better Future

Musings Idea-48100_1280As a Boomer, can you actually design a better future?

That's an intriguing question at the heart of a recent project called "Co-designing with Older People." Alive Ventures founder, designer, and social entrepreneur John Zapolski created the project in collaboration with human-centered design innovator Ayse Birsel, with backing from non-profit The SCAN Foundation - which funds projects to improve the lives of older adults. Ayse Birsel, principal at Birsel + Seck Design Studio, is author of the book, Design the Life You Love: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Meaningful Future.  The project was a year-long study engaging with 250+ seniors (65 and older) across the country in 15 workshops. It was done to gain insight into what older people want and to encourage designers and businesses to "co-design" with older people.

Some of the learnings that came out of the study are worthy of consideration. For example, the study found that rather than being defined by worries, older people are generally "optimistic, interesting, resilient, dynamic, curious and courageous." They do what they love and enjoy things they had no time for when they were younger. Particularly interesting is the fact that seniors "are craving new kinds of experiences: Experiences that are designed for them and by them, rather than someone else's ideas of what older people should be doing."

There was also a sobering part of the study: "Aging isn't inherently a problem. The challenge is that social constructs, institutions and services have failed to support all of us as we age. In fact, they've failed the people who are living the longest."

I thought some of the quotes from seniors who participated in the study were indicative of what we all want and the way we look at life. Here is just a sampling:

I want to connect, teach and share the art of living with people of all ages. I have a lifetime of experience to share.

I want to get things done with joy and feel good about how I spend my time, without feeling guilty about productivity.

I want to find work that I enjoy, that I can search and evaluate based on things that matter to me -- how much I want to travel for it, the type of work, the social environment, what I get in return -- connections, money, intellectual stimulation or a combination.

I find big tasks daunting. Tasks like downsizing and moving to a new smaller place, or writing my family history book. I'd like help with breaking these into smaller steps, manage my time and energy while feeling accomplished.

I am tired of feeling invisible. I want to be visible physically with color and great design and the courage to deploy them.

What I'm most proud of at this point in my life is my ability to never give up on the goal I wish to achieve...no matter how long it takes.

A 61-page report shares many insights, ideas and outcomes from the study. It makes for fascinating reading. You can download a PDF of the report by clicking the link below.

Download Co-Designing-with-Older-People

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The Four Pillars of the New Retirement - Pillar 4: Finances

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Last time, I discussed some of the findings about Purpose in the study, "The Four Pillars of the New Retirement," issued recently by Edward Jones in association with Age Wave and The Harris Poll. Purpose was one of four pillars covered in the study: Health, Family, Purpose and Finances.

"The Four Pillars of the New Retirement" was a major study comprised of a comprehensive examination of 100+ North American studies, articles and publications; in-depth interviews with subject matter experts and financial advisors; online forums and focus groups;  a survey of 9,000 adults across five generations (18+), including retirees and working-age individuals, in the U.S. and Canada fielded in May and June 2020; and exhaustive analysis by team members. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the study was paused and modified to include specific information about the effect of the virus on retirement.

Now for Pillar 4: Finances.

Nearly half (46 percent) of retirees said the primary purpose of money is to "provide security for the unexpected," while 45 percent said it is to "give me the freedom to live how I want." Despite a major concern about their finances in retirement, more than three-fourths of those planning to retire have not figured out how much money they will need in retirement. More than one-third (36 percent) of retirees find managing money in retirement even more confusing than saving for it. More than half (56 percent) said they wish they had budgeted more for unexpected expenses in retirement. Both retirees and non-retirees agree that the greatest financial worry they have in retirement is healthcare costs, including long-term care. (Current data suggests that the average couple will need $300,000 for healthcare and $140,000 for long-term care.)

On the positive side, retirees and pre-retirees alike see the value of financial planning. More than half of both audiences are interested in receiving retirement-related guidance from a financial professional about "an investment strategy for my retirement savings to withstand market volatility," as well as "determining how to best draw from investments in retirement."

This concludes my review of "The Four Pillars of the New Retirement." To gain access to a PDF of the complete report, simply click the link below.

Download FourPillarsReport

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The Four Pillars of the New Retirement - Pillar 3: Purpose

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Last time, I discussed some of the findings about Family in the study, "The Four Pillars of the New Retirement," issued recently by Edward Jones in association with Age Wave and The Harris Poll. Family was one of four pillars covered in the study: Health, Family, Purpose and Finances.

"The Four Pillars of the New Retirement" was a major study comprised of a comprehensive examination of 100+ North American studies, articles and publications; in-depth interviews with subject matter experts and financial advisors; online forums and focus groups;  a survey of 9,000 adults across five generations (18+), including retirees and working-age individuals, in the U.S. and Canada fielded in May and June 2020; and exhaustive analysis by team members. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the study was paused and modified to include specific information about the effect of the virus on retirement.

Now for Pillar 3: Purpose.

The report suggests that "Retirees with a strong sense of purpose are happier and healthier, more active and more socially engaged, and they live longer. ... They want to feel useful more than youthful."

How do retirees pursue purpose? One way is through relationships: 87 percent of retirees indicated they prioritize staying in touch with family and friends who don't live with them. In terms of personal sources of purpose, meaning and fulfillment, 76 percent said "spending time with loved ones" was their top choice, 67 percent said "being true to myself," and 64 percent said "doing interesting and enjoyable things."

New retirees find it challenging to have a sense of purpose after they retire from their jobs. Almost a third (31 percent) of retirees who have been retired less than five years said they struggled to find a sense of purpose in retirement. Retirees miss people and social stimulation in the workplace more than money: 41 percent miss the social aspects of working the most vs. 20 percent who miss the paycheck and benefits. Retirees also struggle to find good post-work avenues for fulfillment: Only 24 percent of today's retirees have volunteered, and only 50 percent of adults age 50-plus would like to serve as a mentor. Still, 95 percent of retirees said it's important to keep learning and growing.

There seems to be a great untapped potential in the country's retired population: 89 percent of Americans across all generations feel "there should be more ways for retirees to use their talents and knowledge for the benefit of their communities and society." A considerable majority of every generation would like younger and older generations to take more time to learn from one another; the percentages for each generation are: Gen Z 83 percent; Millennial 84 percent; Gen X 90 percent; Boomer 94 percent; Silent Generation 98 percent.

Next time: Pillar 4: Finances.

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