Western Courier

Baby boomers are leaving the workforce

Juan Casas, Courier Staff

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For decades, employers and government agencies have dreaded the inevitability of the challenges that they will face, along with the social security safety net, when millions of well-trained, experienced and educated employees finally retire, specifically the baby boomer generation. Millions of people from the ages of 55 to over 70 are expected to retire within the next five years, exacerbating the already diminished funds within the Social Security retirement programs that many upcoming generations, millennials included, are yet to sufficiently fund through their own employment contributions. In other words, there are simply more people retiring than there are trained people to replace them. This, coupled with the fact that wage growth has remained stagnant at best, while the growing rate of inflation has diminished the dollars purchasing power, has directly contributed to the growing fear of the financial collapse of the system of retirement we all pay into, Social Security.

Yet, what seems even stranger is the fact that the Social Security coffers and other pension programs have been destroyed, due to mismanagement rather than due to large numbers of simultaneous retirees. For example, in the state of Illinois, alone there is a huge problem with the pensions system especially for government workers, primarily because past administrations at all levels of government have and had to continue to misappropriate those funds for other projects, like construction. Many politicians do this not so much with malicious intent as much as with political intent, in order to seem more productive and to gain political points. Politicians use Social Security and other retirement program funds as a shortcut to fund shorter goals like the building of a new school, the maintenance of a crumbling street, etc. This makes politicians appear more productive and helps them win reelections, but this short-term strategy is useless if not dangerous for long-term goals and problems that will arise if those funds aren’t replaced and overall actually grown to match the growing number of retirees. Overall, the problems that Social Security face could be laid at two distinct factors.

The first factor is that Social Security could be said to be flawed by nature, because the number of baby boomers outnumber, in many fields greatly, their younger generations. Many Americans are having less and less children as you go down the age ladder; this has left a large number of older people who are retiring without the equal number of younger workers who can replace them. The second factor is the social norms of dating. It could be argued that the entire concept of relationships has, in many instances, particularly amongst younger age groups and even more so in urban areas, been radically changed. For generations, it was the norm, for a person to be married with children by their mid-20s. By their early 30’s, people within that age group were either renting to save or paying a mortgage off. That’s just about how most millennials’ parents and grandparents lived their lives, but the age group popularly known as millennials and even more so the following generation “Z” who, in the next half-decade will be full grown adults, have depleted if not outright eradicated the traditional sense of marriage and monogamous relationships. In other words, marriage and having children at an early age has all but been eliminated.

Overall, there are simply not enough people who are contributing to the diminished Social Security retirement savings, and at this current rate there will simply not be enough left over for generations that come after. That being said, there are a few mentionable solutions. For example, the most popular far-right solutions to this very real crisis is increasing the age cap for retirement from 65 to 70 or perhaps even later. Imagine your 60-year-old grandparents being told that they cannot enjoy their retirement because they must work another decade. Another idea that is popular amongst the far-left is having a work program with foreigners that has them getting paid directly into Social Security, while not giving them the option to retire or ever collect Social Security benefits. For example, if we could have hundreds of thousands of foreign workers pay into Social Security and then at the end of their labor contract be allowed to return to their country of origin, they would be contributing millions, if not billions of dollars, without ever benefiting from the very programs that they paid into. For many this is a win-win situation. It’s a win for the government and retirees, because it fixes the Social Security issue and it’s a win for foreign workers, because they can take home a fairly large sum of cash that they would otherwise not have been able to acquire. Indeed, the solutions for Social Security are as diverse as the problem demands; it may require one or more simultaneous solutions to be fixed right now. It’s a problem that can be resolved in a few decades if our government can change the way Social Security is processed.

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Baby boomers are leaving the workforce