For some time, I have been reading about the problems created by the vast number of baby boomers reaching retirement age. This week, I became part of the problem. After almost 34 years writing for The Baltimore Sun, I am saying so long. I applied for a buyout — or voluntary separation plan — that the newspaper offered, and since acceptance was based on seniority and I have been around longer than the presses that print the paper, I was a shoo-in.
As my last day approached, I prepared to leave the labor force by doing some research about the group I am joining: the retired. I learned that already there are a lot of us, and soon our ranks will be swelling. Now about 1 in 8 Americans is 65 or older, and by 2035 that ratio is likely to be 1 in 5.
About 74 million baby boomers (a group my 1947 birthday places me in) will reach retirement age in the coming years, adding new members to Social Security and Medicare at a rate of 10,000 people per day. I won't be drawing Social Security for a couple more years, but retiring boomers will put pressure on the program's coffers. For a while, there was worry that the system's trust fund could be empty by 2037, but a report last year issued by the Social Security trustees said it was on firm financial footing. The fund will peak at $4.2 trillion in 2024, the trustees said, and after that begin tapping savings to help pay benefits. There is some thought that by 2037 modifications might have to be made in benefits, or the so-called Social Security tax will have to be raised. By then, I will be 90, if I am still on this side of the grass.
Already, retirees are getting blamed for some current economic woes. Greece's fiscal meltdown is, some experts say, the inevitable result of the country's aging population, which was drawing extravagant retirement benefits. The debt crisis is said to be a proxy for the aging crisis that is coming to every country in world. In addition to pension reform, part of the proposed remedy for the problems we gray-hairs are causing is to look upon the time after retirement as an opportunity for economic growth.
In other words, people retire — in some cases well before the age of 65 — but they don't stop working. Half of American retirees now expect to work part-time, one survey found, and they already have high-speed Internet connections in their home offices.
This concept of retirees still plugging away is, I learned, part of something known as "productive aging." Another facet of this new retiree lifestyle involves traveling "creative paths." For starters, my "creative path" will lead me to our basement, which I long ago promised my wife I would clean out. It also will take me upstairs to my home computer, where I will peck away on a book project. So in the big picture, I guess I am not opting out of the labor market but merely dropping out of the part of the workforce that has to shave every morning and wear shoes to work.
I was curious how boomer retirees spend their days. They are active and exercise twice as much as previous generations, a website called Transgenerational.org reported. Retired boomers, it said, like to bike, hike, swim, sail and play softball and basketball. Basketball for me? Not likely. For years I played noontime pickup games at the Downtown Athletic Club, but my knees "retired" some time ago. Swimming laps, a monotonous yet strangely soothing activity, which I used to think was boring, has lately seemed oddly alluring to me. The image of slowly but surely plying the waters of aging works for me.
One of my first tasks as I enter the ranks of the retired is to buy a small portable radio. I read that a 2006 survey of retirees in New Jersey found that the keys to "productive aging" were participating in activities, having close friends, visiting family, reading and listening to the radio. I had a trusty little radio, but a few weeks ago, while listening to the Orioles game as I washed my car, a wind gust from the tail end of Irene knocked it off the backyard fence and into in a bucket of water. Finding a replacement has turned out to be difficult, as most Baltimore-area stores sold out of battery-operated radios in the wave of readiness leading up to the storm.
But soon enough, I will get a new radio and carry it around as I plod along "creative paths." If I hear a news report blaming the woes of the world on retired boomers, I will switch it off.