The War Between Old and Young


There is a natural flow regarding the work force. New workers enter the workforce as old workers retire or simply die. This is most keenly seen in such industries as aviation. The FAA, in its never-ending work to ensure the industry stays in its glory days of the 1940s, refuses to acknowledge any advances in medicine since 1945 and forces airline pilots to retire at age 65 (until recently it was 60). This forcible removal from the aviation industry of its best and most accomplished pilots has, on the other hand, the salutatory effect of allowing a steady stream of new pilots and flight crew to fill-up the bottom ranks as the top ranks retire. Or used to, anyway, before airlines arrived at the same level of market security as boy bands.

To a lesser extent, the same process of replacement occurs in most other industries. It has long been the case among most businesses that they try to replace older, high-paid workers, with new, low-paid workers. But we are now facing a new, mach 1 work environment because of economic troubles. And the picture is pretty ugly.

Retirement is a goal of almost all Americans and was something that could be planned for with reasonable certainty. But in the past 18 months, most retirement assets have dropped drastically in value. This is a catastrophe, especially to most Baby Boomers who grew-up spoiled rotten and were promised a comfortable retirement if they played by a minimal set of rules. Because most Baby Boomers – my contemporaries --have usually had things their own way, they do not play well with others. Bad timing.

With the Social Security full retirement age for the early boomers at age 66, this has long been the standard retirement schedule for Boomers. That was before we lost approximately 42% of our life’s savings and retirement investments in just over a year. What had looked like a comfy retirement involving a nice home paid-off plus a vacation condo on the ocean complete with boat dock has suddenly morphed into the horrifying vision of, instead, becoming one of those stooped, pitiful, arthritic, white-haired 80-year-olds you see slowly loading grocery bags at the checkout counter while wearing the distant, sorrowful expression of “How could this have happened to me?” There are a lot more soon-to-be retirees at the grocery store who are asking, angrily, “How can I retire when nearly half my assets have been wiped-out? And what is the government going to do about it?”

At the other end of the spectrum are today’s young workers. Generations X and Y are said to have a different set of priorities and expectations than we Boomers, but all three groups have a certain set of life expectations. Young workers are now looking at a hugely increased tax burden, vastly decreased job benefits, and no certainty that any job will last beyond three months. They are asking their own questions: “Why should I pay for the government’s fiscal mistakes, Why should I support 'geezers' retirement, why should I feel any loyalty to the country, and how will I ever be able to retire?”

These are all good questions. The bad news is that the new Obama Administration clearly hasn’t a clue what to do except “Go Zimbabwe” and devastate the economy further by installing turbochargers in the mint’s printing presses and assigning $ 300 million to the condom industry in “emergency money,” apparently believing that a cure to our economic woes is more sex by the unemployed. “Hey; they’re home already, right?”

And what is already happening is a ramping-up of friction between older and younger workers as the shrinking supply of jobs combines with a sudden drop in the value of the population’s money assets. This perfect storm is quickly building force. We are looking at the likelihood of millions of people unable to retire fighting to keep jobs wanted by younger workers. The stack of age-discrimination laws will become fully engaged as young battle old. As is often the case, the only ones likely to benefit are attorneys.

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