Demanding the Treatment We Deserve

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I've often written about age discrimination in the workplace, but there is another area in which ageism can literally be a life or death situation: Health care.

A disturbing article on NextAvenue.org highlights the problem. Janine Vanderburg, founder and director of a nonprofit initiative called Changing the Narrative, tells NextAvenue, "We know we live in an age of unconscious bias, and people who work in health care aren't immune to that." Vanderburg notes that a study in the Journal of Internal Medicine found nearly a third of older adults said they frequently experience age discrimination from doctors or hospitals. For example, doctors and nurses can be patronizing or insensitive, and hospital staff will sometimes order unnecessary tests just because patients are older.

Recently, my wife experienced first-hand what could easily be perceived as health care ageism. Her 98-year old mother, who is on oxygen, was gasping for air and was brought to a hospital emergency room, where my wife waited with her. After a quick assessment that the condition was not life threatening, hospital staff completed an entire battery of tests -- EKG, blood work, chest x-ray and COVID-19 test -- and then left the elderly woman laying on a stretcher in the hallway for hours. They even had to repeat the EKG and take more blood because of technical problems. Staff walked by her as if she was invisible. My wife had to ask for a pillow and a blanket because her mom was so uncomfortable. Maybe this same shoddy treatment would have been given to anyone in the emergency room (which of course is inexcusable), but one has to wonder if ageism played some role in it. The diagnosis was pneumonia, which the chest x-ray alone could have revealed.

Yale University professor Becca R. Levy, who conducted research on the impact of ageism on health care costs, tells NextAvenue, "During the pandemic, there were certainly issues that exacerbated ageism in health care, particularly in the long-term care setting — with the high number of deaths in the first months of the pandemic that were due, in part, to the inadequate protective equipment and inadequate protections given to the workers and the residents."

Unfortunately, health care ageism rears its ugly head so frequently that older patients may end up feeling inadequate or they blame themselves. According to Professor Levy, "Part of the reason it's so insidious is that people don't even realize that they're experiencing it and they tend to blame it on themselves instead of discrimination or the larger systemic problem of not getting the best possible health care for older people."

So why am I telling you all this? Very simply, because you and I are aging too. It won't be that long before we face ageism from our doctors, hospitals or other health care providers -- if we haven't already. Instead of accepting it, says Vanderberg, "we need to advocate for ourselves." While we don't have to be jerks about it, that means demanding the treatment we deserve from health care professionals. 

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New Book Shows How World War II Helped Launch "Boomer Brands"


An Aging Workforce Continues to Face Ageism

Krakenimages-8RXmc8pLX_I-unsplashExcuse me for being repetitive, but I'm writing about age discrimination in the workplace...again.

I recently wrote about the economic impact of age discrimination. Now I want to talk about the human cost. A research study jointly conducted by New York University and Stanford University revealed that younger workers are persistently prejudiced against older workers -- and the younger the workers are, the more ageist views they hold. In fact, the study found that workers who openly oppose racism and sexism in the workplace are still prejudiced against older workers.

Richard Eisenberg of NextAvenue asked Michael North, one of the researchers, some penetrating questions about the study. North expressed this disturbing takeaway from interviewing younger workers: "There's this sort of subtle tension where older adults are expected to step aside and get out of the way and stop creating this perceived logjam in the distribution of resources or jobs or positions of influence, so the younger generation can get their turn."

North said he believed that "ageism is socially condoned to a point where it's not uncommon for folks to overlook it as a prejudice." In a 2014 article he co-authored for Harvard Business Review, North wrote about four specific ways companies could adapt to an aging workforce:

  1. Flexible, half-retirement.
  2. Prioritizing older-worker skills in hiring and promotions.
  3. Creating new positions or adapting old ones.
  4. Changing workplace ergonomics.

According to the article, "Companies that make these changes have seen tangible improvements in retention and productivity, organizational culture, and the bottom line."

Despite these accommodations for a workforce that is aging, age discrimination in the workplace is widespread. A recent research study by Generation, a global employment nonprofit, cites some sobering statistics. As reported by Kerry Hannon for NextAvenue, "Employers view just 18% of age 45+ job seekers as having the right experience for their entry and intermediate level roles, according to the report. Only 15% are viewed as being a good 'cultural fit' with their team." Sadly, this contradicts reality, since when 45+ workers are actually hired, "87% of those employees perform as well, or better, than colleagues a decade younger."

This kind of workplace ageism takes a human toll: "Of those surveyed who were unemployed, 63% of 45+ job seekers have been out of work for more than a year vs. only 36% of job seekers 18 to 34."

Hannon spoke with Generation CEO Mona Mourshed, who was one of the report's researchers. Mourshed indicated that ageism was not just limited to any one country or any particular industry. "One of the most striking findings of this result is it's uniformly consistent across dramatically different countries," said Mourshed. "We surveyed seven countries —  large, small, emerging markets, culturally diverse — but this phenomenon is a hundred percent universal. Same pattern, same magnitude, from industrial to service professions, from skilled trades to tech jobs."

Mourshed's observations are worth noting. "It's so important that age is considered part of diversity, equity, and inclusion," said Mourshed. "We must have an intergenerational workforce and we should have processes for recruiting and for retention that enable that."

The research findings can be discouraging, but if you are a Boomer who wants to continue to work, you'll need to find ways to prove your value to prospective employers. Mourshed believes "many more aged forty-five-plus have the potential to do the job if only they can get in through the door."

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Boomers on FIRE

Mohamed-nohassi-UKX_DwNKXSA-unsplashThe title may sound like a bunch of older Americans in the Western part of the country fleeing current forest fires -- but this blog post is about a different kind of F-I-R-E: "Financial Independence, Retire Early." The FIRE movement gained traction with the under-50 set as a way to retire as early as possible by accumulating enough savings to fund a potential 50-year retirement. But the pandemic has cooled the interest in FIRE in one way and created a new class of adherents in another way.

One of the tenets often viewed as a cornerstone of retirement planning and part of the FIRE movement is the "4 percent rule." Here is a simple explanation of the rule from investment management firm Charles Schwab:

You add up all of your investments, and withdraw 4% of that total during your first year of retirement. In subsequent years, you adjust the dollar amount you withdraw to account for inflation. By following this formula, you should have a very high probability of not outliving your money during a 30-year retirement according to the rule.

This rule seems quite adequate for a 30-year retirement but much riskier for a 50-year retirement. According to mutual funds giant Vanguard, applying the 4 percent rule results in an 18 percent chance of running out of money at the end of thirty years, but there's a 64 percent of running out of money in fifty years. The fact is Boomers on FIRE could be more successful in sustaining their financial independence in retirement than younger generations on FIRE. Basically, if the 4 percent rule holds, the youngest Boomer at age 57 will probably not outlive her money in fifty years, but a 35-year old Millennial very well might.

A recent article in The New York Times suggests that, before the pandemic, Millennial FIRE enthusiasts aimed for frugality in an effort to retire as young as possible, but the pandemic is changing that thinking: "Now, most newcomers to the movement are less motivated by quitting and more interested in having choices — without sacrificing too many of life’s pleasures in the meantime. This objective also makes the movement more accessible; early retirement is just not possible for most Americans."

It turns out that the pandemic may have recalibrated the expectations of those younger workers who were on FIRE. Thirty-eight year old Jamila Souffrant of the website/podcast "Journey to Launch" told The New York Times, "“I think a lot more people would have stepped back from work during the pandemic if they had the means to do so, especially if they had kids stuck at home or didn’t feel safe at their jobs. Financial independence is a privileged endeavor, and it’s not realistic for most people — they’ve got mouths to feed, and they might not even be making a living wage."

Boomers, on the other hand, have generally seen their retirement funds balloon thanks to the recent bullish stock market. As I wrote in my last post, retirees are for the most part optimistic and resilient, even when they retire early. Millions of Boomers have left the workforce during the pandemic, maybe because they are confident their financial independence is solid and their money will outlive them. That's a whole lot of Boomers on FIRE.

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The Resiliency of Retirees

Grandparents-1054311_1920Looking back at the last twelve to eighteen months, it would be perfectly legitimate to think retirees have adopted a pessimistic attitude. The damaging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on every aspect of life certainly cannot be understated. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, American retirees have a kind of resiliency that keeps them not just positive but optimistic about the future. In fact, the optimism of retirees may be one of the under-told stories of the pandemic.

The 31st annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) proves the point. Conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) in association with Greenwald Research, the RCS is the longest-running survey of its kind, measuring worker and retiree confidence about retirement. The 2021 survey, conducted in January 2021, surveyed 3,017 American workers and retirees. Just over half of the respondents (1,510) were retirees. Let's take a look at some of the statistics from the survey as they relate to retirees:

  • Only 23 percent of retirees say they feel less confident as a result of the pandemic and its economic impact.
  • 80 percent of retirees remain confident that they'll have enough money for a comfortable retirement, and 1 in 3 retirees say they are very confident.
  • 6 in 10 retirees rely on defined benefit or pension plans for part of their income. Social Security and personal savings are the most common forms of income for retirees.
  • Nearly half of retirees retire earlier than they expected; reasons stated are because they felt they could afford to, because of a health problem or disability, or because of changes with their organization.
  • 8 in 10 retirees report that their overall lifestyle — including traveling, spending time with family, or volunteering — is as expected or better. Nearly 3 in 10 say their retirement lifestyle is better than they expected.
  • 6 in 10 retirees say their overall expenses and spending in retirement are as expected and 1 in 8 say they’re lower than expected.
  • Three-quarters of retirees feel confident they will have enough money to take care of medical expenses in retirement, an increase from 2020 among retirees. Also up significantly from last year and reaching an all-time-high for retirees, 3 in 4 retirees are confident that Medicare will continue to offer benefits of at least equal value to those received today.
  • Yet, health care costs continue to be a top concern for retirees. 1 in 3 retirees say their health and dental expenses were higher than expected, which is comparable to last year. Separate from spending on routine necessities and bills, 1 in 3 retirees say they continue to reserve money to ensure they have enough for health and long-term-care expenses.

For a majority of retirees, their income from Social Security is stable, their Medicare insurance is adequate and their personal savings and retirement plans have probably increased in value because of a generally high-flying stock market. Retirees are also consumers -- and for June and the four months prior, the Consumer Confidence Index(R) increased, and "is currently at its highest level since the onset of the pandemic’s first surge in March 2020," according to Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at the Conference Board. "Consumers’ short-term optimism rebounded, buoyed by expectations that business conditions and their own financial prospects will continue improving in the months ahead. While short-term inflation expectations increased, this had little impact on consumers’ confidence or purchasing intentions."

All things considered, retirees seem to be a resilient bunch. That just may be a silver lining for Boomers starting to emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown.

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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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July Half-Price Sale on eBooks for Boomers

For the month of July only, take advantage of a special sale for readers of Happily Rewired. The following eBooks are available through July 31 for half price:GW Three books
Boomer Brand Winners & Losers: 156 Best & Worst Brands of the 50s and 60s
This remarkable book features fascinating stories of 156 best and worst brands of the Boomer era. Relive the days of Cap’n Crunch and Cocoa Puffs, E-Z Pop and Pop-Tarts, cap guns and comic books. Recall the time when automobiles ruled the road and a transistor radio was “advanced technology.” Learn how television played a key role in brand advertising. Discover which brands blossomed and which were a bust. Boomer Brand Winners & Losers is a wondrous walk down Memory Lane!

Available in all eBook formats including PDF
Regular price: $4.99 On sale price: $2.49
How to order: Go to https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/988321
Use code SSW50 when you check out to get this eBook at half price! 

Boomer Brands: Iconic Brands that Shaped Our Childhood
This unique book reminisces about the beloved brands Boomers first met in the 50s and 60s. Read “Boomer Brand Cameos” of over fifty of the brands you grew up with: Disney, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, Good Humor, Howard Johnson, Hush Puppies, MAD, Ovaltine, Twinkies, WIFFLE Ball and many more. Most of these brands began during the Boomer era and are still around. Plus, you'll gain rare insight into how these iconic brands shaped your childhood and have a lasting impact on your life. Boomer Brands is meant to be read by Boomers, shared with Boomers, and savored for the memories!

Available in all eBook formats including PDF
Regular price: $4.99 On sale price: $2.49
How to order: Go to https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/905170
Use code SSW50 when you check out to get this eBook at half price! 

Let’s Make Money, Honey: The Couple’s Guide to Starting a Service Business
By a baby boomer couple who started a small service business as a second career, this how-to guide covers planning, financing, outfitting, and launching a service business, as well as operations, marketing, sales, customer service, and managing growth. Included are useful tools to help couples assess their business interests and business compatibility. Let’s Make Money, Honey is a must-read for Boomer couples, especially those exploring encore careers.

Available in all eBook formats including PDF
Regular price: $6.99 On sale price: $3.49
How to order: Go to https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/568837
Use code SSW50 when you check out to get this eBook at half price! 


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

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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.

You can download a copy of both the original and updated studies here:
https://www.edwardjones.com/us-en/market-news-insights/retirement/new-retirement

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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!

Dayne-topkin-8zt45T-7G6w-unsplash
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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