After extensive research – by which I mean I talked to a bunch of my friends – I have concluded that you can divide boomers into one of three different classes. What?, you may scoff, divide 76 million people into just three strata?
Yes, indeed. Here’s how.
Class 1: Boomer superlatus fortunatus
The wildly fortunate Boomer class comprises two sub-classes. The first is that group that inherited the spoils of the postwar boom from their parents or grandparents, and did so without that wealth being vacuumed up by health-care costs or inheritance taxes. The second sub-class comprises those who, by being associated with a start-up that got bought up before it went belly-up, hit the late 20th century jackpot of stock options.
These lucky folks are living a life of Gilded Age-like luxury, by which I mean the utter lack of worry about their checking account going down to three figures. I went to high school with several of these people. Some of them remain humble and appreciative; others think they’re rich because they really are that smart.
Class 2: Boomer coitus absolutus
The completely screwed Boomer is the mirror image of the wildly fortunate Boomer. They, too, may have gambled at a start-up, but had the misfortune to choose the one that escaped the Midas touch. Or they worked at a once-reliable company whose management couldn’t navigate the rapids of a changing economic order. Or they never lived in a part of the country whose real estate skyrocketed inexplicably. Or their parents had the bad taste to contract long-term debilitating diseases that sucked up all their savings before they died penniless and without bequests.
Or, more likely, Boomer coitus absolutus worked for a long time at good jobs that paid good salaries, but never enough to put a whopping lot aside for tuition or retirement. And then they discovered that – instead of their talents being more valuable as they aged – their work could actually be sent overseas for a fraction of what they were being paid. Now they face either unemployment or involuntary early retirement. That might have been okay if the stock market hadn’t crumped and reduced their nest egg to little white shards. Now they’re trying to figure out if their only choices are to move in with their kids or be homeless.
Unfortunately, even if they tackle the agonizing effort of re-inventing themselves, they’re doing so at a time when a whole lot of industries are re-inventing themselves, so they face an economic landscape devoid of sure things, other than greeting at Wal-Mart or Home Depot.
Class 3: Boomer transitarus nihilum
In the middle is the Boomer going nowhere. They may have had a chance to invest in rocketing real estate at one time, but they lost that equity in a divorce or two. They may want to retire, but their parents are facing dire medical expenses and their kids are heading off to college.
They make a good income, but it’s at a job that drives them crazy. Did I say job? It’s probably the equivalent of three jobs, because they’re working for a corporation that’s sitting on a Fort Knox of cash. It won’t spend the cash because it doesn’t want to hire more workers, offend the delicate sensitivities of its stockholders, and then lay the workers off again.
But because the Boomer transitarus nihilum doesn’t dare complain, they’re stuck with more work, but not more salary. Until of course, the company decides to lay them off. Unfortunately, it’s too soon to retire and too late to find a new career. Chances are they’ll find something else fairly quickly, but they’ll find their new situation isn’t markedly improved from the old one. The names have been changed to fool the innocent, but the guilty still get away with murder.
And that’s why, if you think I’m the only middle age cranky, you’re wrong.
Howard Baldwin has worked as a journalist since 1977, covering management, finance, technology, and health care. Since 2002, he has focused on corporate work, writing for American Express, Cadence Design Systems, Cisco Systems, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Research in Motion, and Symantec, among others. He lives in Silicon Valley with his wife, a physician, and their three cats.
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