The first of the baby boomers hit age 65 on January 1, and between 7,000 and 10,000 more will pass that mark every day for the next 19 years. Needless to say, both the country and the economy will be hugely affected as this massive population wave — 79 million Americans in total, or 26 percent of the current population — reaches the traditional retirement age. (Watch a Fox News discussion about boomers' future.) Here are four looming questions:
Can Medicare handle this group?
These boomers "appear poised to start sucking down federal benefits like a college student on free beer night," says Barbara Marshall in The Austin American-Statesman. Medicare will be the first federal program to feel the strain, says Samuel Goldsmith in the New York Daily News. With 2.5 million Americans enrolling this year, and another 70 million or so over the next 18 years, the "Baby Boom floodgates" will "swamp" the Medicare system, "raising concerns that the health care program could go bankrupt — a devastating blow to baby boomers who have paid into the system their whole working lives." But we still have time to fix that, says the AARP's John Rother. The boomers won't start racking up the big bills until "their mid-70s and 80s."
Have they saved enough to retire?
"Through a combination of procrastination and bad timing, many baby boomers are facing a personal finance disaster," says the Associated Press' Dave Carpenter. Factors working against these would-be retirees include a rocky decade on the stock market, a sharp drop in home values, and the dying out of traditional pensions. "But just like with every other stage of life they've gone through, baby boomers are expected to transform how we think about 'retirement,'" says NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Many will be forced to continue working, but remember: Boomers tend to "derive more of their identity through work," and an AARP poll of those hitting 65 this year found that 40 percent have no plans to retire — ever.
Are boomers prepared for the challenges of aging?
Unfortunately, positive thinking only goes so far, says Susan Jacoby in The New York Times. Boomers need to let go of the "vision of an ageless old age" held so dear by the "'90 is the new 50' crowd." "Our generational credo" has long been "that we can transform ourselves endlessly, even undo reality, if only we live right," but the reality is that, should we live to "old, old age," we need to plan for "unremitting struggle, ideally laced with moments of grace."
Can the rest of us survive the boomer retirement?
"Beyond new certainty that company-sponsored yoga classes aren't going away, it's hard finding positives in the approaching boomer glut," says Ron Stodghill in The Charlotte Observer. The refusal (or inability) to retire is a "threat to business innovation, whose lifeblood depends on pushing out old ideas to make room for new ones." And "you can almost bet there's a breakthrough in medicine, engineering or education languishing somewhere" among underemployed 20-somethings.