The savings and pensions crisis facing many of us baby boomers is positively scary, as the story of this 77-year old former corporate VP in the United States only too starkly reminds us.
After holding down perfectly good jobs, paying our way through life, looking after our kids and our parents, how many of us are now looking forward to an extended lifespan with a declining standard of living, to add to all the usual challenges and adjustments (note the euphemisms) that go with aging?
As more and more of us hit 60, 65, and older, the social problem will only become bigger, as the middle class of my generation stares glumly in the mirror at a new or emerging under-class.
The usual response, in the financial media especially, is to berate us for not having saved enough (as if there was always spare cash jingling in our pockets, and we were merely profligate); or to urge us to step up our savings and investments, now, before we retire (how many of us, realistically, expect to be able to retire, ever? Precious few, if I ask my friends).
In other words, the problem is portrayed as a problem of individuals, not of society.
It is a fair point. We do, individually, bear responsibility. And our lives, in most cases, are testament to the fact that we take responsibility very seriously indeed.
But individual responsibility is not the whole story, in at least three respects. First, we need to ask whether the economy provides a level playing field, or whether the odds are not stacked inexorably in favour of the ‘one percent’ – as American statistics on the declining wealth of the middle class over at least the last twenty years (in other words, the peak earnings years of the baby boom generation) and the concentration of wealth at the top shows pretty convincingly.
Second, we need to ask whether it is appropriate, in a caring society, to abandon those whose usefulness is assumed to be up.
And third, and perhaps most importantly, we need to question this very assumption – that over 60, we have passed our sell-by date, and have nothing further to contribute.
We have a hell of a lot to contribute, and we need to make damn sure everyone knows it! And while we’re at it, perhaps we should take up the cudgels for a fairer and more equal society – not only on our own behalves, but for everyone, including our children.
Isn’t that what we baby boomers do? Work for a better society?
What else (after the basics were taken care of, our children educated, our parents taken care of) did we work for?
And remember, if you gave the wrong answer, you can’t take it with you.