Age Discrimination Costs Everyone

Peter-van-eijk-eiDw0oX8YQQ-unsplashAnalysts, commentators and bloggers (including myself) have long been writing about the discriminatory actions of American businesses against workers as young as 50-plus. Companies have found numerous ways, such as reorganizations, downsizing, layoffs and the like, to evade federal laws against age discrimination. As a result, Boomer workers are often the first to be let go, even if they've had an excellent work record and have shown loyalty to their employer.

A startling report from AARP, based on research and analysis conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit, points to the economic impact of age discrimination in the workplace. First, here are some basic facts from the report about the 50-plus workforce:

  • 117.4 million people in the U.S. are age 50-plus
  • Because of the COVID 19 pandemic and other economic factors, many now plan to work well past the age of 65; in fact, over 40 percent of workers age 65-plus intend to continue working into their 70s
  • In 2018, the 50-plus population supported 88.6 million jobs and $5.7 trillion in wages and salaries; this demographic segment, just 35 percent of the total population, contributed 40 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Get ready for the real shocker. According to this study:

"The economy missed out on an additional $850 billion to U.S. GDP in 2018 -- a figure the size of Pennsylvania's economy -- because of age discrimination. This gap could rise to $3.9 trillion in 2050."

 The report goes on to state:

"Reducing involuntary retirement, underemployment, and unemployment duration among the 50-plus population could have driven an average increase of 4.1% in GDP in 2018. In 2050, an uplift of 6.3% could be generated."

AARP's "The Longevity Economy" (registered trademark) outlook "measures the 50-plus population's overall contribution to GDP, employment, wages and salaries, and taxes through 2050, and analyzes its unique effect within different industries. The economic contribution of people age 50-plus was worth $8.3 trillion in 2018, and it is forecast to more than triple to $26.8 trillion by 2050."

Digging into the report's data reveals some sobering observations:

  • People age 50 to 64 experience longer unemployment than other groups
  • Women age 50-plus spend an average of 31.4 weeks unemployed -- longer than men
  • Lower income workers are more likely to feel trapped in their present role as a result of age discrimination
  • Minorities feel less able to re-enter the workforce because of age discrimination
  • Involuntary retirement costs the economy the most.

Many of us may view age discrimination as patently unfair, treating it as a moral or ethical issue. That is certainly one way to look at it. But AARP has elevated the discussion of age discrimination to a new level, demonstrating its impact on the American economy as a whole. It's time for all Americans -- in particular business executives and political leaders -- to wake up to the real cost of age discrimination.

You can obtain the full AARP report (PDF) at the link below:

Download AARP-age-discrimination-economic-impact

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Re-Entry: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and (Almost) Love the Pandemic

Ismail-mohamed-sovile-vvd8f02y5_c-unsplashMy wife and I just returned from our first airplane trip in a year and a half. The last one we took in December 2019 was well before our COVID-19 lockdown began. Having been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine this past February, I had a high degree of confidence that I would be protected from the coronavirus. I proudly carried my vaccination card in my wallet, almost as if it was a psychological shield. Still, as a 70-plus Boomer, a bit of apprehension lurked in the back of my brain.

I was reassured by the strict rules imposed at the airports we utilized and on each flight we took. Masks were mandatory throughout the air travel experience. From the moment we stepped into the airport, on and off planes, to the moment we stepped out of the airport, we were in a sea of totally masked people. The only time I had to lower my mask was so the TSA agent could match my face to the photo on my license. Flight attendants greeted us with hand sanitizer packets. The safety briefings given by the flight attendants reinforced the mask requirement. All of the flights were nearly full, so we did have to sit next to strangers -- but I thought masked strangers were better than unmasked strangers. I didn't hear any grumbling from people around me about wearing masks, either at the airports or on the flights. Admittedly, being in close proximity to so many people was a bit disconcerting, but I put my faith not just in masks but in the vaccine.

We were traveling from North Carolina, which has basically done away with mask requirements, to Oregon, which continued to enforce mask wearing because of lingering high infection rates. It was interesting to be thrown back in time, visiting a city in a state that was just beginning to loosen its pandemic constraints. Restaurants were still largely doing takeout and outdoor dining only; very few restaurants had socially distanced indoor dining available. The signs posted on doors of restaurants and stores varied. Some read "Masks required," while others stated, "Masks required if you are not fully vaccinated." I saw only one sign that asked for "proof of vaccination" if you wanted to enter the establishment unmasked.

Seeing a masked world, and then realizing we were on the cusp of an unprecedented Pacific Northwest heatwave (it arrived about the time we were departing Oregon) contributed to an other-worldly travel experience. All in all, though, it was incredibly liberating to travel again. I imagine not everyone will feel comfortable going through a crowded airport or getting on an airplane right now. But as for me, I learned to stop worrying and love the freedom that comes from being released from a pandemic prison. 

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The Four Pillars Revisited

Screen Shot 2021-06-15 at 1.19.29 PM
Last September, I published four posts about the "Four Pillars of the New Retirement," a landmark study by Edward Jones, Age Wave and The Harris Poll that delved into living well in retirement in four key areas: Health, Family, Purpose and Finances.  This study has now been updated to reflect the specific impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the perceptions of each generation about retirement; the new study is appropriately titled "What a Difference a Year Makes."

According to the study, 76 percent of Americans across all generations say the pandemic helped them "refocus on what's most important in life." There were other important statistics that came out of the study. I've cherry-picked a few data points that should be of most interest to Boomers:

  • 61 percent of retirees say the pandemic gave them "more appreciation for what makes life meaningful"
  • 53 percent of retirees say they now have “greater empathy and compassion for people who are struggling in ways that they are not”
  • 69 percent of retirees believe "having a sense of purpose in life is important to achieving optimal wellbeing"
  • 67 percent of retirees say "spending time with loved ones provides them with the greatest source of meaning, purpose and fulfillment"
  • nearly all retirees (93 percent) believe it’s important to feel useful in retirement, and 87 percent agree that being useful actually “makes them feel youthful”
  • 89 percent of retirees now believe “there should be more ways for retirees to put their talents and knowledge to use for the benefit of their communities and society”
  • 66 percent of pre-retirees age 50-plus now cite healthcare and long-term care expenses as a major worry
  • 70 percent of Americans across all generations see the pandemic as a "financial wake-up call," and 69 million people say the pandemic altered their retirement timing.

The creators of the study reached some interesting conclusions, among them:

  1. "Powerful forces have converged to reshape retirement, including the COVID-19 pandemic, altering retirement timing and savings for tens of millions of Americans."
  2. "The financial fallout from the pandemic has been unequally distributed."
  3. "Women's confidence in their retirement savings continues to drop while men's is rebounding."
  4. There is a potential wellspring of retirees interested in being a force for social good."
  5. The majority of retirees wish they had done a better job planning for both the financial and the non-financial aspects of retirement."

I would add my own reflection on the study: Americans in general, and Boomers in particular, have proven to be remarkably resilient. Even in the face of crisis and tragedy, Boomers find a way to rise up and prevail.

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Home Sweet Home?

Cristian-newman-CeZypKDceQc-unsplashConsider this scenario: An elderly widow, now approaching 98 years of age, lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment. Despite being hard of hearing, suffering from an increasing loss of short-term memory and depending on supplemental oxygen, she is otherwise in remarkably good health. Fiercely independent, she insists on continuing to live by herself. She can still handle the basic tasks of daily living. Her daughter, who lives nearby, visits regularly to walk her dog, buy groceries, provide socialization and more. Only recently has the widow accepted weekly visits from a home health aide. She is adamant about living independently and resists the notion of entering an assisted living facility.

This type of situation is real. It is playing out all across the nation when older people choose to "age in place." As I wrote in a previous post, according to The Center for Aging in Place, "Aging in Place is a national movement to enable people to stay in their own homes as they grow older by making available the social support, health care, and home maintenance services they require to live happy, productive lives in the community."

In theory, aging in place is a noble concept. In practice, maybe it isn't so great. In the scenario above, the independence the elderly woman perceives she has is simulated. She is housebound, feeble (she has already fallen twice) and largely dependent on her daughter or a caregiver. It is just a matter of time before she will need daily care in her home if she remains there. Entering an assisted living facility may appear to be a more suitable alternative, but such facilities have their shortcomings, which might include high cost and low quality of care.

Many in the Boomer generation seem to embrace the idea of aging in place, but we have to distinguish desire from practicality.  “The vast majority of people want to stay in their homes as they age, and most homes in this country aren’t designed to allow that to happen,” Dr. Rodney Harrell, AARP's VP for Family, Home and Community, tells The New York Times. The Times reports that "AARP recently introduced HomeFit, a free augmented reality app on iOS that can scan a room and suggest improvements to help turn a house into a 'lifelong home,' free from safety and mobility risks. It is an extension of the organization’s extensive HomeFit Guide, which is available online."

Apps and guides are all well and good, but they may obscure the real question: How wise it for an elderly person to age in place? Safety appears to be a key concern: According to The Times, "The website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that for adults 65 years and older, $50 billion is spent annually on medical costs related to nonfatal fall injuries and $754 million is spent related to fatal falls."

The patchwork solutions we currently have in our society for aging in place are less than adequate. If we Boomers choose to age in place, we will likely need to make some significant changes to be able to remain in our "Home Sweet Home."

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Afraid of Technology? Not Us!

A leading consumer research organization, Wunderman Thompson, reports that Boomers are "turning to online tools, apps, and systems with increasing enthusiasm to stay connected and stocked." Two of the statistics the analysis cites are strong evidence:

  • The 50 to 64 age group uses Facebook more than the age groups just above and below them. (Pew Research Center)
  • Consumers over the age of 65 are the fastest growing group of online shoppers. (NPD Group)

Check out these additional impressive statistics from various sources as reported by Herosmyth:

  • 57 percent of Boomers use tablets as compared to 35 percent of Millennials. (Nielsen)
  • 60 percent of Boomers follow brands on social media for deals and promotions. (Sprout Social)
  • 70 percent of Boomers who use Facebook log into the social media network daily. (PRC)
  • 85 percent of Boomers research products on their web browsers. (Synchrony)
  • 66 percent of Boomers make regular purchases on web devices. (Immersion Active)
  • Over 25 percent of Boomers consume 20 hours or more of online content each week. (BuzzStream x Fractl)

When I wrote about the online shift in a previous post, I noted that the pandemic has encouraged Boomers to dramatically increase their usage of online shopping/delivery/meal prep apps as well as participation in video chatting and online education. The NPD Group says consumers 65 and over spent 49 percent more online in 2020 than they did in 2019.  Still, it isn't as if Boomers were shying away from technology previously -- during the pandemic, they just depended on it even more.

Computer technology phobia is one of the many myths used to marginalize Boomers. Persistent ageism is likely to lead to the perception that Boomers are intimidated by computer technology and don't embrace it as do younger generations. Lots of folks, including brand marketers, media agencies and the news media, seem to forget that the computer technology revolution started on our watch. If anything, we became comfortable with hi tech before it was fashionable. Sure, we need to keep current on the latest changes and advances, but no more than everyone else.

So my fellow Boomers, don't let others play the age card and paint you as a technophobe or worse, a doddering old Luddite. That perception couldn't be more wrong.

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Retirement: It's Personal

Senior-4466290_1920There are essentially two basic sides to retirement: Financial and Personal. For the average Boomer, the Financial side is the engine of the Personal side. If we have been diligent about funding retirement accounts, generally have made wise investments and live well within our means, we should be able to comfortably "retire." But most Boomers quickly realize that there is no universal definition of retirement, because it's really up to each of us to define it.

One way to look at the Personal side of retirement is to ponder how to design your "ideal" retirement. Joe Kesler, author of the book "Smart Money with Purpose", has some excellent ideas about that. In an article he wrote for Humble Dollar that also appeared on Marketwatch, Kesler shared these six suggestions:

  1. Ramp up creativity and learning. Kesler writes that learning during retirement "reminded me of the thrill of going to college, but without the stress of final exams."
  2. Redesign work. Kesler says a fulfilling retirement should include a combination of leisure, service and work. Working at something you enjoy, whatever it may be, is liberating because "we no longer have to put up with the nonsense of the workplace—because we aren’t doing it for a paycheck."
  3. Redefine identity. Because many of us were defined by our work identity, it's important to "fill the identity void with our new interests," writes Kesler.
  4. Build deep friendships. Work friendships also need to be replaced. Kesler advises, "Look for friendships where you find yourself most passionate."
  5. Capture Kodak moments. Without an all-consuming career, Kesler says you can "Use the extra time offered by retirement to reconnect with family."
  6. Eliminate the toxins. Free yourself from things that perturb you, advises Kesler. "Don’t waste a lot of time in this new season of life with toxic relationships or annoying red tape."

I think Kesler does a darn good job of covering the key areas of the Personal side of retirement. We all know the Financial side can be challenging, but the Personal side can be downright vexing, particularly for those of us who are transitioning from long, fruitful careers. The very notion of reinventing ourselves (or "rewiring," as I call it) in our later years can be an unsettling proposition. That's why it's so important to plan ahead for retirement not just financially, but personally. Your happiness depends on it.

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"Are We There Yet?"

Liam-pozz-yjmJBkKn26k-unsplashI'm betting most Boomers remember "Are we there yet?" from their childhood car rides and during auto excursions with their own kids. It's a common question that signifies youthful impatience.

In the context of growing older, though, "Are we there yet?" has an entirely different connotation. Boomers are not necessarily impatient about getting to our later years; in fact, old age sneaks up on us rather quickly. We may even be openly or secretly apprehensive about the aging process. "Are we there yet?" is a more difficult question to answer for Boomers today because "there" is such a huge variable. We are each likely to have our own personal definition of when we really enter "old" age.

Boomers who are in good health, financially secure and satisfied with their lifestyle may not get there anytime soon; they may be thriving into their 80s and 90s. However, those who have health problems or must continue to work due to inadequate retirement funding may get there a lot sooner; they may prematurely age, finding life downright painful even in their 60s and 70s.

"Are we there yet?" also applies to the worldwide pandemic. It's the question we've all been asking as we anxiously await a return to our pre-pandemic lives. While we seem to be turning the corner in the United States (especially those Boomers who have been fully vaccinated), COVID-19 has redefined "normal." It has further exposed the disparity in society between haves and have-nots. For example, as I observed in a previous post, this pandemic has led some better-off Boomers to rethink work and retire earlier than previously planned. In contrast, less fortunate Boomers who lost their jobs because of COVID-19 may have seen their retirement plans crumble before their eyes.

Experts tell us that the current pandemic is very likely to be just the beginning of a string of virus strains that will put a strain on all of our lives. Like COVID-19, future viruses will probably affect the elderly more severely.

As we march down the road to our later years, we face not just viruses, but other risks that are exacerbated by our age. All the more reason for Boomers to take the steps necessary to anticipate the challenges of getting "there." That's why we need to care for ourselves holistically -- physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. So perhaps a better question than "Are we there yet?" would be "Are we prepared for when we get there?"

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A "New Map of Life" for Boomers

Screen Shot 2021-05-11 at 4.25.46 PMThe aging population in the United States -- and around the world -- is motivating several brain trusts to propose creative, innovative ways for humans to successfully live longer lives. For example, the Stanford Center on Longevity, with the support of the Annenberg Foundation, is creating a "New Map of Life," a concept they've trademarked, which the Center describes as follows:

Stanford Center on Longevity’s New Map of Life™ initiative aims to envision a society that supports people to live secure and high-quality lives for a century or more. This new initiative will research and define new models for education and lifelong learning, redesign how we work, advise new policies for health care, housing, the environment and financial security, and promote more intergenerational partnerships. It will also advance a new narrative, which redefines what it means to be “old” and values people at different stages of life. Media outlets, advertisers and the entertainment industry will play an important role in this effort by sharing stories and creating new imagery and content about longevity and aging.

This ambitious initiative consists of three main components: a Research Fellows Program, a Communications Campaign and a Global Agenda. The New Map of Life is guided by six principles, each represented by the letters N-E-W-M-A-P:

  1. New roles and opportunities must be created so that people experience purpose, belonging, and worth at all stages of life
  2. Education is a lifelong pursuit
  3. Working longer will occur in multigenerational contexts
  4. Money. Opportunities to earn and save must be available throughout life to ensure financial security
  5. Advances in the science of aging must be distributed broadly in the population
  6. Physical health and the prevention of disease is critical to achieving the promise of longevity.

The New Map of Life is an excellent example of the kind of broad strategic thinking necessary to address the impact of human longevity on our society. In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the country's 90-and-older population tripled over the past three decades. Over the next thirty years, this population is projected to more than quadruple.

When it comes to living into the ninth and even tenth decade of life, Boomers are the cutting edge generation. A 65-year old woman today in the U.S. has an average life expectancy of close to 87 years. Given the above statistics, this is probably a conservative projection; good health could easily extend one's life well into the 90s or beyond. Boomers need to be physically, mentally and financially prepared for a second act that could potentially last decades beyond 65, formerly considered the traditional retirement age.

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Where Have All the Boomers Gone?

No-identity-1755089_1920The pandemic that laid waste to the American economy has led to an interesting paradox: Well-off Boomers started to disappear from the workforce not because they lost their jobs, but because they wanted to leave their jobs.

As I've mentioned in the past, the number of Boomers who retired in 2020 increased dramatically. In the third quarter of 2020, 3.2 million more Boomers retired than in the third quarter of 2019, according to the Pew Research Center. In Q3 2020, 28.6 million Boomers said they were now retired. A substantial number of Boomer retirees felt the detrimental impact of the pandemic. These unlucky working Boomers found that their employers were effectively using the economic downturn as a means of practicing ageism. Boomers were typically the first ones to get the axe when belts needed tightening as employers exhibited a preference for younger, less expensive staff.

Still, a different slice of the Boomer demographic has seen something of a silver lining in the pandemic. As reported by, according to Bloomberg, 2.7 million Americans age 55-plus have said that "Covid-19 fatigue" is causing them to consider leaving the workforce earlier than they had planned. This group -- mostly affluent white Americans -- is well-heeled enough to think about calling it quits. Returning to an office after more than a year of telecommuting may just be more than some of these Boomers can handle. They're following a "life is short" philosophy. In the story, one 58-year old "said he found himself spending more time about pursuing his other passions — including volunteering at the Salvation Army — and that staying home last year only reinforced his desire to leave."

Interestingly, Boomers may have really benefited financially during the pandemic recession because of a dramatic increase in the value of homes and stock shares. According to, "Assets for Americans between the ages of 55 and 69 reportedly spiked by $4.2 trillion last year, including a $2.2 trillion increase in corporate equities and mutual fund shares and a $250 billion uptick in the value of private businesses."

Boomers who have decided to exit the workforce permanently creates another problem: a labor shortage. Employers simply cannot fill open positions. Isn't it ironic that those employers who previously discriminated against Boomers because of their age may now actually be desperate to hire them.

Editor's Note: This post has generated several comments, which can be found in the "Comments" section below the post. I have also included two of them here:

Such an interesting article! My husband is 62 next month and one those boomers who is dreaming of retirement. After going through the pandemic and a booming construction business that has him drowning in work as a surveyor, he has had enough. I don’t know if it’s in the immediate future, but we’re working toward that goal. - Julie Gorges

As always, another provocative blog post from Happily Rewired. Of particular interest is the ironic twist in the last paragraph observing that previously youth age-biased employers “may now actually be desperate to hire” senior candidates. It is worth noting that the impact of the pandemic, aside from the economic effect on the general population, has also driven cultural transformation raising the value of older people. Fredrick "Rick" Manning,

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The Retirement Income Juggling Act

Juggle-1027144_1920A study by the Stanford Center on Longevity points to two troubling statistics for older workers approaching retirement: (1) one-third of them have NO retirement savings, and (2) for those who have savings, the median balance is about $200,000. The harsh reality associated with either of these scenarios is that they demonstrate why traditional retirement is a big stretch for so many Americans. Layer the economic impact of the pandemic on top of under-funded retirement savings and it's easy to see why many Boomers realize they'll need to keep generating income for the foreseeable future.

The average middle-income Boomer can't solve the problem overnight, but a plan developed by the Stanford Center on Longevity in association with the Society of Actuaries -- the "Spend Safely in Retirement Strategy" -- is a practical retirement income-generating strategy. Financial expert Steve Vernon, a research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity, discusses it in an article published in the January 2021 issue of Benefits Magazine. He suggests that most pre-retirees need to address the following five decisions:

  1. When and how to retire, including whether to work part-time for a period of time
  2. When to start Social Security benefits
  3. How to deploy retirement savings to generate retirement income
  4. Which living expenses, including the cost of housing (which is often retirees' largest living expense), to reduce in order to live on less income in retirement
  5. Whether to deploy home equity by realizing capital gains and and reinvesting the proceeds to generate retirement income or by purchasing a reverse mortgage.

In the article, Vernon describes five possible scenarios as an illustration of how such a strategy might work. The example uses a hypothetical 62-year old married couple with household earnings of $100,000 annually and retirement savings of $350,000. The scenarios are designed to show the differences in retirement income generated by the couple if they follow certain paths: (1) retire at 62, (2) Work part-time until retirement at the full retirement age of 66-1/2, (3) Work full-time until retirement at the full retirement age of 66-1/2, (4) Work part-time until retirement at age 70, (5) Work full-time until retirement at age 70.

Factoring in both Social Security and the drawdown of retirement savings, the illustration shows that the couple can significantly increase initial total income, from $37,585 in scenario 1 to $70,755 in scenario 5. The good news is that, even scenario 2 produces initial total income of $51,526 -- an increase of almost $14,000 over scenario 1. The comparison demonstrates that the increases between working part-time and full-time are not as dramatic as the increase between not working at all and working part-time. In other words, working part-time until age 66-1/2 or 70 can really pay off. As Steve Vernon points out, "These analyses show the potential advantage of a downshifting strategy for older workers who don't want to or can't continue working full-time but haven't saved enough for complete retirement."

The example above offers an optimistic outcome for those individuals who are in a position to at least generate some income even after retiring from full-time work. Most everyone approaching retirement has to be an income juggler. This is where a financial advisor can really help. It's all about understanding the unique combination of work, retirement savings, Social Security benefits and income from other sources offers the best balancing act for you. 

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