The economy remains shaky, unemployment stubbornly high, the housing market stalled and the stock market volatile, but older Americans say they are generally happy and enjoying life. A study by USA today and United Health Care found most are content with their finances, their health and where they live, and most are optimistic about the years to come. This generation of retirees, including the oldest Baby Boomers, who turn 66 this year, are more likely to enjoy the fruits of their life-long labors than future retirees. Many had the opportunity to stop working before employers pulled the plug on pension plans, before companies stopped matching contributions to 401(k)s, and before Social Security and Medicare finances hit the crisis stage. The oldest Americans now are the wealthiest. Data from the Federal Reserve Board show that in 2010, households headed by people age 75 and above had the highest median net worth at $216,800 (half were worth more, half less). It was the first time they ranked at the top since the financial statistics started being tracked 1989.
What older Americans Think
Most striking about the poll are the high levels of optimism and satisfaction expressed by the respondents — a tone that surprised even Nick Crofoot, vice president of Penn Schoen Berland, the market research firm that conducted the survey. There is a disconnect between attitudes and reality,” he says. “Nobody wants to believe that things are going to get worse for them.” He is concerned that seniors aren’t as aware as they could be of some of the health challenges they face. The poll shows lower-income residents certainly are less upbeat: 22% of those who live on $30,000 or less a year say the housing options available to them are unaffordable, compared with 7% who make $75,000 or more. And they’re much less confident they’ll be able to afford their Medicare premiums, deductibles and co-payments in the future.
The Evolution of Retirement
Retirement has taken on different meanings over time. For centuries, there was no such stage of life. People worked until they died. Beginning in the 1930s, when Social Security was created, retirement became a time to literally withdraw. Then in the 1970s, retirement 3.0 began, and all of a sudden there were Sun Cities, cruises, and they became the “golden years.” Now we are starting to see retirement 4.0 emerging. People like to stay youthful longer, reinvent themselves, and they will want to work longer. People in their 40’s will face challenges unless they start planning for retirement early. Many individuals work for themselves or a small company that does not offer pension plans. Americans with their ingenuity and drive will redefine retirement again in the future.
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