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Across My Desk: Baby Boomers and Retiring

"Conventional wisdom says that the United States nears a retirement crisis, as the giant Baby Boomer generation retires en masse and a smaller generation of young workers struggles to maintain their productivity level and fund Social Security. Conventional wisdom is wrong, demographer David Foot believes.

The idea of a looming retirement crisis "is overblown," says Foot, a professor of economics at the University of Toronto who studies the economic and policy implications of aging populations.

The Baby Boomer birth rate peaked around 1958, he says, so the youngest Americans in the generation are in their late 40s now. "They are probably not going to retire for at least 15 years, and maybe 20 years," says Foot, who also heads up Footwork Consulting Inc. "The print media and TV media over dramatize things. They give people the idea that a huge wave is coming, and it is just around the corner. It is hardly a ripple, and it is more than a few years away."

Nonetheless, Boomers, and American's in general, have been lousy savers. Here are more highlights from that story:

  • Only a third of Boomers will have saved enough to retire comfortably.

    Another one-third will work longer. The rest will see a substantial drop in their standard of living.

  • Dallas Salisbury, Washington-based president and CEO of the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). "[If you compare it to the norm,] you have to say that we have always had a retirement crisis," he says. "The vast majority of retirees have had very low income, and the vast majority have had no health insurance beyond Medicare."

  • The idea that all American workers should retire in their 60s with full financial security may be unrealistic.

  • Many Boomers also will enter their golden years with larger credit card and mortgage debt than those who went before.

Bottom line: Unless you're a high-income earner, or likely to have a whopping inheritance coming your way, let your kids and grandchildren pay for their own college educations and weddings and save like a bandit for those long retiring years that you'll be facing sooner than you think.

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