...retirement was an unknown concept for most of human history. Work until you die, or can't do anything productive any longer was the "rule." With most of us living in rural situations, retirement made no sense. The cows needed milking and the crops had to be planted, regardless of your age.
Most experts cite the start of Social Security in the United States in 1935 as the official recognition of a change in mindset. But, not until Medicare was enacted in 1965 were most people able to even consider retirement at some point.
As you are aware, 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring every day. This massive flow will continue for another several years. That many people puts Social Security and Medicare under tremendous pressure. Neither was designed to support so many folks for so long. In 1935 the government figured setting the retirement age at 65 was a safe move; the majority of recipients would not live for very many years after that.
Well, we showed them! Within a few years after the 1935 start, those aged 65 had an average of 12 more years to take those monthly payments. Today, that figure is more like 20 years. Those living into their 90's and 100's grows every year.
Satisfying Retirement has been tracking and discussing all of this for the past seven years. Even after the major economic upheaval of 2008-2009, interest in retirement topics didn't really wane. Sure, a lot people had to delay leaving work, cut back on their plans, or consider some serious downsizing. Some had to abandon the idea of retirement completely. But, the dream didn't die. The belief that there would be a future of freedom and exploration continued.
Today, I am seeing the unfolding of a trend that is pointing us back to a place we were a generation or two ago: retirement as an uncommon choice for many working men and women. Studies that cross my desk all say the same thing: a growing percentage of those who have reached a typical retirement age are in no rush to leave work. Those in their 40's and 50's see retirement as a receding point on the horizon. Adults in their 20's and 30's don't see retirement as a desirous (or possible) option at all.
Of course, with projections that Social Security and Medicare will be unable to pay full benefits starting in just 17 years, maybe the younger folks are just accepting reality. Maybe they'd love to enjoy what those of us who are retired have learned: this phase of life can be the most fulfilling and exciting of all.
Maybe they accept that Congress will not make the tough choices necessary to fix the system developed 50-70 years ago line up with the reality of longer life and a drop in employment. Maybe they can't or won't save enough to be away from a job. Maybe the movement away from social groups and organizations and into social media where human contact is minimized has something to do with it. A report by Bloomberg on July 17th says that retirement dread is replacing the American dream. That is a very sad state of affairs.
I don't know. What does seem apparent is that those of us enjoying our retirement now and those within five or ten years of leaving the workforce may be a vanishing breed. The system that supports us may not be available for our kids or grandkids. Even if we have taught them the importance of delayed gratification and saving, the lack of fiscal discipline from others could mess up everyone's future. The lack of leadership and will in Washington will catch up with us all.
The message for us is two-fold:
1) Enjoy every moment of your satisfying retirement. Things may sort themselves out and retirement will be possible and enjoyed by generations to come. But, you are here now. Make the most of all your opportunities and freedom.
2) Urge your family to plan for a future that may throw more burdens on them. If possible, leave some financial help for those who follow you. If you can't, leave them your wisdom, experiences and an attitude that all things are doable. It seems clear that more responsibility for our future will rest on us, on the individual's shoulders.