In sheer number, the postwar baby-boom generation often has foreshadowed large-scale societal adjustments, whether it is the need for more schools or housing to accommodate them. For years, the changes that must be made as boomers approach retirement and senior years have been the subject of much study and discussion.
A three-part series in the Beacon Journal and other Ohio metropolitan newspapers this week spotlighted challenges facing aging workers as a result of a harsh and prolonged recession. The economic crisis has served not only to emphasize the range of the changes required. As important, its impact on older workers is (or should be) impressing on individuals and communities the problems that need to be addressed at an accelerated pace.
The series showed that the recession has hit older workers harder, forcing many boomers to confront the implications of aging much sooner than they might have anticipated. As a group, boomers have suffered record rates of layoffs. In a tough economic climate, they remain unemployed for longer periods, they are less likely to be hired back to jobs that are similar to their previous employment, and their wage losses often are deeper. Also, the revolution in work technologies is displacing more older workers who lack the training and flexibility for new labor markets and careers.
With fewer years left before retirement to recoup wage cuts and investment or savings losses, older boomers are more likely to face a steeper financial climb out of the recessionary hole.
Boomers make up a rising percentage of Ohio’s population. Fourteen percent of Ohioans are 65 years and older. The projection is that by 2020, a quarter of residents in half the counties in Ohio will be 60 years and older. Meanwhile, Ohio’s metropolitan areas are recording sharp declines in residents younger than 45 years. A Brookings Institution national analysis shows six of the 10 metro areas with the highest losses in this population the past decade were in Ohio. With the first wave of boomers beginning to retire, the challenge is replacing a large cohort of workers while the state is losing more younger workers than it attracts.
In short, Ohio is graying at a rate that soon is going to put a strain on services. For example, there will be a growing demand for housing that is both affordable and designed to enable older residents to remain independent, along with a greater need for transportation options to ensure mobility for as long as possible and a broad spectrum of personal services, including health care at home and in facilities. The reality evident in the series is that a harsh economy has accentuated the challenges presented by an aging population, many of whom are facing the future with significantly fewer resources than they imagined just a few years ago.