In any society, there is only a certain amount of work to go around. Work pools can be expanded or contracted, but given the current social climate in the US, it is well known that the amount of work which pays a wage that one can survive on without destroying the body in near completion is limited and getting more limited.
The traditional age of retirement in the modern US is about 65. However, this pattern has been changing because those of retirement age, the Boomer generation, are realizing that despite having lived through one of the largest wealth booms in history, the overspending has finally caught up to them and not only are they in debt, but they cannot afford to retire because they cannot service their bills. As a result, many people over 65 are now working well past retirement, which as NPR reports constitutes about 1 in 4 adults of this demographic, and this number is expected to increase, making it the fastest-growing group of workers in the country.
The days of working for one company that would take care of you after you retire are long gone. Few private sector workers now have traditional, defined benefit pensions, where you’re paid a fixed stipend for life depending on your salary and years of service.
Most retirement funds now are 401(k) types, where the employer and employee contribute a fixed amount and the money is invested in the stock market. During the worst of the last recession, 401(k) accounts lost almost one-third of their value. That was enough to change some would-be retirees’ plans.
Also, a recent survey found that about 50% of older Americans are dipping into their retirement savings to help their grown children. And some folks just haven’t saved enough: Baby boomers have median savings of a little over $150,000 to get through what could be a 30-year retirement.
Meanwhile, roughly half of private sector employers offer no retirement plans at all. That’s one of the reasons about a quarter of retirees get 90% or more of their income from Social Security. (source)
NPR notes that nearly a quarter of people under retirement age do not ever anticipate on retiring. While it does not provide details, the number is likely unbalanced in favor of older workers, as many of them do expect some form of retirement.
As a millennial and having been around many millennials, there is a general sense of doom among them that they will not be able to retire at all because of the factors noted by the story. A toxic cloud of debt from student loans, rolling debt with high interest rates to service day-to-day living costs, a decline in the standards of living, and difficulty at finding jobs with livable pay rates for prolonged extensions of time all contribute to an unstable future where people, especially the young, are fighting to survive, let alone establish themselves or advance in their financial situation.
It is bad enough that women in the workplace was pushed, because this has allowed the labor pool to be doubled and half the wages. Now that old people, who would traditionally retire and give their spots to younger people, are staying in the work force, they are taking up jobs that younger people could work. This punishes the youth doubly, because now that they are already indebted, they cannot move into jobs that pay and thus their debt increases and so does the likelihood that they will be able to improve their lives.
The Boomers are already indebted, and many of them will die in the next twenty years. However, the Millennials in twenty years will be between the ages of forty-five and fifty-seven. They will be fully in middle age and some approaching retirement. Without ever having been able to establish themselves, what will they have to show for themselves?
Some say that the Zoomer generation will be different, but I have yet to see that. The main difference between the Millennials, who are already in the work force, and the Zoomers, who are just coming into the work force, is that the Zoomers have not fully embraced the nihilism that the Millennials have because they are young and have not watched their financial hopes and dreams get utterly crushed by circumstances largely beyond their control or what they were deceived into holding. All that one needs to have is a single major recession and the Zoomers will likely follow in the path of the Millennials, except the only difference will likely be fewer suicides, as some Millennials, having been crushed twice in two recessions, will seek to end their internal pain and hardship with ending themselves.
The economic signs of trouble are present, and will likely manifest by 2024, leaving now less than five years maximum barring any major changes.
I am not writing this to direct hatred at the Boomers, or to say that Boomers should not seek to pay off their debts or help themselves. However, there is an examination of reality that needs to happen but is not.
The Boomers are largely working because they are either trying to service debt or continue to live at a standard of living that is above their means. The first reason is more noble, but even in this case, limits can be justified. The latter is just purely selfishness.
The anger of the Millennials and the Zoomers at the Boomers is very serious and should not be ignored. Behind the nihilism is a base of sadness and anger that has formed a toxic stew of hatred that could be lethal.
Many of the Millennials know that they will have no retirement, no future, and especially for the women, may die alone and childless, or for the men, alone and sad. The Zoomers are at a high risk of following in this pattern. Their anger could easily be harnessed by the politically ambitious or simply exploited by a man having lost his mind, as Millennials and Zoomers generally do not have any religious beliefs, and turn it in to a very dangerous thing for the Boomers.
Millennials and Zoomers need to exercise control, but Boomers need to exercise compassion and assistance as they can. The social situation is toxic and if something is not done, then the “day of the pillow” meme put online by angry people of both generations may become a reality across millions of homes.