Monday, April 03, 2006

How Are The Boomers Aging?

It was an article in last Sunday's New York Times (March 26, 2006) that brought back to my mind the plight of Boomers. On the business page was a relatively small piece about the median size of the inheritance that Boomers are receiving from their parents' generation. Many had been hoping for gazillions, but what they are getting is around $29,000. As the article pointed out, once nursing home bills are paid, and so forth, the average Boomer will get about enough to buy little more than a new car.

But that isn't all. Social Security is now on an age scale that is sliding upward, and 65 is no longer the assured retirement age for this generation and those coming afterward. Then there are all these corporations who have found their traditional pension schemes too onerous and are transferring across to 401k plans. This means that those in their forties and fifties who are caught in the middle of this alteration are suddenly looking at far less in the way of a retirement haul than they had anticipated.

Add to all this the fact that the Boomers have been famously profligate with their funds, and it looks as if this a good portion of this generation is facing a financially bleak old age. All this is before assessing the price of healthcare, something all of us are going to need a lot more of in years to come, and is being
delivered through an expensive and tottering system. It would seem that a huge number of Boomers are going to have to work, and work hard, well into what we consider today to be old age. In addition, they are often going to find themselves doing it without the family support that they want and need.

Programmed to be self-actualizing, Boomers have not only been profligate in the way they have used their money, they have also been profligate with relationships. Marriages too often have been treated as disposable, which has meant that relationships with children (spouses, and former spouses) have been tenuous or badly damaged. While past generations of aging parents have been able to look to their offspring for assistance with growing old, many in this generation are in a big fix on this front.

As the first wave of Boomers is reaching sixty and is beginning to think about its golden age, it is discovering that the currency of these "bonus years" has acquired quite a tarnish. I have been talking and writing about this for quite a while now, but most of the time my observations have been greeted with the "How interesting" kind of response, and the page has been quickly turned so the subject can be changed. For many a Boomer just the idea of being old is hard to digest!

This does not mean that all Boomers are going to have a rough time of it. We are both sixty, and while Rosemary and I will certainly not be rich, as things look right now we are well placed for an active "retirement" that will be adequately financed (unless the whole world economic system collapses, and then we will all be in trouble!). There are millions like us who have paid our Social Security, have good pension funds, have salted savings away, have taken care of our real estate, and have managed to educate our children and maintain an excellent relationship with them.

As we look at the Boom Generation, it seems likely, however, that there will be a strong mismatch between the Haves and the Have-nots. Some of us will be able to travel, live in our dream house, and watch our grandchildren grown from toddlerdom to adulthood, while others could well find themselves living in seedy isolation, working as greeters at Walmart, and be attached to the world through our Internet umbilical cords. My nightmare vision for certain males of our generation is that they will live alone in a one-room apartment indulging as they are able in the excesses of gambling and pornography that the online world is able to offer.

One thing that we can be certain of is that retirement is not going to be the same for the rising generation of elders. While the G.I. and Silent generations were able to look forward at a relatively early age to hanging up their cleats and settling into an easier and less stressful existence, possibly in some resort area in the country, Boomers face a much more bracing time, and this will present some
extraordinary challenges to those in ministry.

For example, as we get older we spend more time pondering our mortality. I am watching my contemporaries succumb to various complaints and diseases of aging, whether it be cancer or arthritis. Some of my peers are beginning to die as a result of their ailments, while others are unable to live the active and freer lives that they had anticipated by this point in their earthly journey. As these realities press in upon us, there is every reason to do what Boomers have spent little time doing, and that is wondering if there is anything after this.

I first focused on this in a big way when I wrote Brave New Church several years ago, and as I look back over the chapter about The Fast Approaching Gray Wave in that book, I see few reasons to radically modify my forecasts. This is a great opportunity for the churches, but I do not see us taking it seriously, and few if any have any strategies in place.

During the last couple of years we have been thinking about what might come when in due course we hang up our spurs here. What should we do, if our health holds steady, with those years that God gives to us when we do not have to be out there in the marketplace earning our keep any more. Right now we only have ideas, but they will be relatively easy to flesh out as the reality approaches and we become more focused on the task. What we are certain of is that ministry will not cease but will go on. Freed from the need of a package of salary and benefits it is possible that we will be able to take on tasks for which there are no funds available, or even to focus our ministry on working with our peers who have spend the whole of their lives at odds with the Christian faith and organized Christianity.

There are, in fact, all sorts of wonderfully creative things that churches and elder Christians are able to pioneer and to do. There is also a huge amount of incredible talent that is being wasted on golf courses all over the country, as Christians with fabulous skills to share have no outlet, so as a result they let themselves go to seed.

In a culture that is as youth-oriented and youth-fixated as ours, it is extremely difficult to raise much interest in the elder generation, but in many ways it is the next ministry frontier, and there are profound possibilities for the future. The problem is that these possibilities will not be noticed until they are upon us. Actually, with an older than average membership, North American Anglicans are beautifully placed to begin doing something about all this, but I suspect we are too engrossed in our own ecclesiastical navel-gazing to be able to do much constructive about it.


Jimmy said...

'I suspect that by now Neal Bishop
would have been bishop elect'
I consider this statement to be indiscreet.

Jimmy said...

Sorry Richard the missing word is
'Michell'-(what do I know)it is a bit indiscreet to give a name when the process is still ongoing.
I know you're a good man but you need to chill-man.