Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation

by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

Introduction: We’re Here. We’re Angry. And It’s About Time Someone Listened To Us

Turning 46-63 in 2009 and making up about one-third of the US population, America’s vast Baby Boom generation may now be the angriest cohort in recent US history.

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You’re Decrepit, Greedy, Narcissistic Luddites – Plus You Have Cooties! Play Golf, Bake Cookies, and Turn Over the Country to Us

If you don’t think there’s a highly-organized propaganda campaign being waged against Baby Boomers, perhaps they’ve already messed with your mind and spirit. The fact that it’s bad politics doesn’t seem to deter our detractors. Maybe ridicule will help.

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Back To Sophisticated Communes – Will Baby Boomers Come Full Circle? Scott’s Story

After lifetimes of aggressive independence, Boomers may seek a sense of community as we age. The co-housing movement looks back to the free-spirited hippie communes of our youth but forward to a Utopia of health, learning, and productive work – without skimping on material comfort.

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Re-Engineered to Smithereens – Art’s Story

Once upon a time, when Baby Boomers ventured into the business world, those who could manage operations were Kings. But the ascendancy of financial re-engineering changed all that. Along with product lines and business units, even the most talented individuals turned into Pawns – and thereby became expendable.

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Will Boomers – and the GOP – Save Twitter?

The twin forces which could destroy Twitter are immature game-playing and political correctness, both taken to unreasonable – and sometimes illegal – extremes. The antidotes? Maturity and a renewed sense of inclusiveness.

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No Gold Watch – Nor Golden Parachute – When You Work For Pariah Corporation: The Story of Melissa and Phil

With close to 65 years of big-company experience between them, this perfect corporate couple kept their noses to the grindstone and their feet on the ground – until they lost a million dollars one very bad afternoon.

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A Chance For Romance – Annie’s Story

The Good News: More than half of all Baby Boomers are single. The Bad News: Hey! there isn’t any! If you’re a Baby Boomer, and you want to find new love or companionship, you can do it. And the current sea change in our national and personal value systems makes it easier.

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A Daughter Among Daughters Reaps Scorn – Suellen’s Story

When her elderly parents became ill, she gave up her job, her security, and her comfortable middle-class existence. If something isn’t done soon, she says, Baby Boomers will become the New Poor.

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Who’s A Boomer? (And Who’s Not?)

Many people from other age groups – and even some members of the media – seem to have a rather fuzzy idea about who is and is not a bona fide member of the Baby Boom generation. Here’s the beginning of a helpful guide to some prominent Boomers among us.

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by Ellen Brandt. Ph.D.

When her elderly parents became ill, she gave up her job, her security, and her comfortable middle-class existence. If something isn’t done soon, she says, Baby Boomers will become the New Poor.

Many Boomers are devoted to their aged parents. But my friend Suellen stands out as a model of filial dedication. Five years ago, when her Dad became too sick from Alzheimer’s disease for her mother to cope alone, Suellen quit her full-time accounting job and moved into her parents’ apartment.

“Dad was lucid enough to be adamant about not leaving home,” she tells me. “And Mom absolutely refused to shut him away from her. Unfortunately, she was getting progressively more frail, too.”

While Suellen, who is in her mid-50s and single, was not only happy but proud to put her life on hold to make her parents’ lives better, from Day One, she heard from a variety of busybodies who loudly disagreed with her decision. Distant relatives, people in the neighborhood, and “friends” of all shapes and forms chided her for a decision they felt was “unrealistic” and “destructive of her life.”

“The general message was that in the United States, the proper way to handle this kind of situation would be to put your Dad in a nursing home, tell your Mom to learn to live with it, and go back to earning as much money as you can to pay for it,” Suellen says. “Some people said I should bite the bullet and take two or three jobs, if necessary, which would have meant I never saw my parents at all.”

She stuck to her guns and kept her family together, losing emotional support from the naysayers in the process. When her Dad died two years ago, even some of his closest relatives refused to visit Suellen and her Mom when they were “sitting Shiva,” the Jewish custom of mourning at home. “Yes, it was pretty shocking,” she says, in what sounds like a big understatement.

Suellen’s stubbornness – and courage – are characteristic of this feisty Brooklyn girl, whose compassion and intelligence are apparent in every word she utters. As an only child, she was the apple of her parents’ eye. “Of course, I wanted to return their love and caring when they were the ones in need.

“In nearly every other country in the world,” she goes on, “sons and daughters are expected to take in and lovingly care for aged parents who become sick or helpless. That’s what you do. And it benefits all involved – the parents, the children, any grandchildren in the household. Only in America are we actively encouraged to give Mom and Dad the heave-ho.”

Attracted to the Tropics

Over the past decade or so – even before her parents’ health crises – Suellen became attracted to the idea of joining the growing community of Boomer ex-patriates in the Caribbean and Latin America. This reverse emigration is occurring, she believes, because in many cases, it is much cheaper to live abroad, while the intangible “quality of life” may actually be more appealing abroad than on the Mainland.

When her Dad became seriously frail, she made a trip to Panama – a popular ex-pat haven – and tried to persuade her parents to relocate with her there. “My mother was reluctant,” she explains. “She thought the environment would simply be too foreign. But lately, she’s changed her mind, telling me, ‘You know, Sue, maybe we should have done it.’ ”

Back home in Brooklyn, Suellen and her mother, a former secretary – her Dad owned a limousine service – are struggling to survive. For one thing, they could get evicted. “My parents were renters, because they loved their classic Brooklyn building. With recent inflation and a limited income, though, it’s tough keeping up.”

There are also problems with utilities. The electric company, for example, touts its “senior discount” to all and sundry. But they won’t allow Suellen’s mid-80’s mother to have one, because her monthly Social Security check is too high. “It’s under $1400. But to them, it’s a king’s ransom,” she quips. “These so-called authorities are living in La-La-Land. They don’t understand that there are all sorts of health and other very basic expenses that the standard programs just don’t cover. My Mom has to visit some kind of health practitioner nearly every week, for instance. Just the transportation to and fro is a burden.”

Suellen herself can no longer afford private health insurance, and she is too young to be eligible for government programs. A long-term breast cancer survivor, she should be going in for regular check-ups but hasn’t been able to do so for over a year.

A while ago, she applied to a religious-based charity which was widely touted as helping out those who were “falling through the cracks” in terms of healthcare protection. “It was a humiliating experience,” she reports. “The representative they sent to visit us commented on my Mom’s ‘high’ Social Security income, as well as the general attractiveness of our apartment and our dress. Then she demanded to know what we were eating, as if we must clearly be squandering our meager income on lobster, caviar, and champagne.”

Needless to say, the charity turned them down.

We’re Here, We’re Angry, We’re Compassionate

Suellen is outraged at what she calls a “Culture of Meanness” permeating the US right now. “Income disparity is becoming too striking to be ignored much longer,” she feels. “There are the few who are obscenely wealthy and the many who are struggling to make ends meet – a large proportion of whom are Boomers.”

Our generation, she believes, has to acknowledge that if we do not unite and act together, we could be in big trouble just up the road. “My family’s story is anything but atypical,” she says. “What happened to me could happen to nearly any Boomer with elderly parents. One day, you’re comfortably middle-class. The next day, you’re part of the New Poor.”

Although a lifelong Democrat, Suellen is so far unimpressed with either major party’s approach to what could be a coming healthcare crisis for elderly Americans and those who take care of them. “Instead of rabid partisanship, we need honest discussion and compromise on this issue,” she believes. “And we have to consider not just the situation today, but also the situation twenty years from now, when Boomers themselves will be elderly.”

Suellen finds herself moving more and more towards the center of the political spectrum today, where she believes the majority of Baby Boomers now are. “Very few Boomers are on the fringes,” she says. “We are Centrist Republicans, Centrist Democrats, or Centrist Independents – but they key word is Centrist.”

She’s also disturbed and concerned by the ongoing propaganda campaign which seeks to brand the Boomer generation as a whole as inward-looking and selfish. “I think the exact opposite is true,” she says. “There are exceptions, of course, but most Boomers are concerned, compassionate, and caring. Look at our record on civil rights, women’s rights, volunteerism – or pure political activism.

“In fact, Boomers have possibly cared too much about righting every wrong in the country except those wrongs directed at us. It’s high time we demanded some reciprocal compassion towards our own generation.”

What Do You Think?

Have you had to decide whether or not to place a frail, elderly parent in a nursing home or assisted-living facility? Tell us your story.

What do you think of Suellen’s decision to put her career on hold caring for her parents?

Do you agree that most other countries in the world respect and revere the elderly more than we do in the US?

Are government agencies and charities all wrong when they evaluate which elderly people need help and which don’t?

Do you agree with Suellen that those of different political opinions need to compromise to ward off a healthcare crisis caring for our aged population?

Are Boomers not only the Angriest Generation right now, but possibly also the Most Compassionate?

For the Introduction to Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation, please go to: http://wp.me/pxD3J-3

For Ellen’s take on activities for the elderly, Summer Camp for Seniors: http://wp.me/pycK6-t

For Ellen’s idea of a University for Elders: http://wp.me/pycK6-v

For “Recession? What Recession? Not in the Senior Services Sector,” go to: http://wp.me/pycK6-p

by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

After lifetimes of aggressive independence, Boomers may seek a sense of community as we age. The co-housing movement looks back to the free-spirited hippie communes of our youth but forward to a Utopia of health, learning, and productive work – without skimping on material comfort.

Remember those generally rural, usually idealistic, and mostly unsustainable experimental communes a fair number of Boomers flocked to – at least temporarly – in the ’60s and ’70s?

I certainly do. I was invited to visit a northern California commune for a week or so, in order to write a story for my newspaper column about women living out-of-the-ordinary lives. The woman in this case was named Laraine. Her commune consisted of five or six families occupying a large farm, which one family inherited from a childless uncle.

Laraine, who had a burly husband with a bushy beard and two adorable little children who never seemed to wear shoes, was trained as a biochemist. But she’d traded in labs and test tubes for a small herd of goats, a magnificent vegetable garden, and a healthy life of self-sufficiency.

This was pre-Internet, of course, but the collective families had decided to ban television and newspapers and weren’t too keen on music, either. They grew – or slaughtered – all their own food, made all their own clothing, and home-schooled their kids, way before anybody else thought of doing it.

They were idealistic, earnest, and more than a tad priggish. I found them quite interesting and in some ways, quite admirable. But I finished my assignment with a sigh of relief and without the slightest desire to live the way they did.

Fast forward to today and another northern Californian, Scott Adams.

Scott, a Marin County architect and housing expert, believes the idea of communal living – albeit sophisticated and even luxurious communal living – could start to appeal to Baby Boomers again. He’s among a group of thinkers – architects, planners, economists, and sociologists – lately enamored of a concept called co-housing, which first arose in Europe and is now spreading throughout the world, including the US.

Think of co-housing as a ’70s commune with a coat of white-collar polish. Or a monastery without the monks and religion. Or maybe a condominium complex with the real estate aspect seriously altered.

While co-housing communities often look like your average neighborhood condos – they typically comprise 20-50 residences and townhouse architecture is popular – they differ considerably from other forms of real estate in how they evolve, grow, and what they mean to those who own them.

Intentional Utopias

“People don’t opt into a co-housing arrangement after the fact,” explains Scott. “A group of people come together with the intention of forming a community. They purchase the land, hire the architects and builders, decide on the features and amenities they want, and are involved in every aspect of the community’s development and subsequent growth.”

There’s considerable flexibility in this basic model, making each co-housing arrangement unique. Some communities are multi-generational; some are not. Some welcome children; some do not. Some share professional interests, as in intentional communities of artists, teachers, or even computer programmers.

Scott’s recently-formed company, Communities International, is focused specifically on co-housing arrangements for Boomers, which he thinks will become increasingly popular from now on.

“Yes, Boomers are angry, partly because of financial reverses,” he says. “But they are also disillusioned, because so many sources of emotional support may have failed them, too. Many have been ‘outsourced’ or ‘downsized’ from corporate communities. Others are divorced or widowed. People have chosen to be childless, or children and other relatives may live far away. The world is simply not as socially supportive as it once was, and a feeling of isolation seems to be widespread among the Boomer generation.”

Some studies show that aging within a close-knit community can help prolong one’s life, as well as rendering it happier. “My own family experience supports this thesis,” says Scott, who fondly remembers the small town of Allegan, Michigan, where his aunts, uncles, grandparents, and great-grandparents lived and died.

“My grandfather Adams lived with his sister into his late 80s, surrounded by five daughters and their children. My grandmother Herman lived in the same house since she was 18, and after my grandfather died, she had three sisters as near neighbors.”

A Vineyard in Your Future? – Possibly in Mexico?

But not everyone is so lucky these days. Both Scott’s mother and former mother-in-law died in nursing homes. And the incident which inspired the formation of Communities International ended on a down note.

Seven years ago, a group of several professional couples and singles, Scott among them, attempted to build a community in rural Sonoma County, California, which would be based on the plan of a Japanese country village with a central garden. All of them were friends of a wonderful man named Jerry, an astronomy professor who had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “The idea was that we would all take care of Jerry as his illness progressed and take care of each other as we aged as well,” relates Scott.

But Sonoma County zoning laws at that time worked against them. “A wealthy person could get permission to build one 12,000 square foot home. But we couldn’t get permission to buy land jointly and build seven small homes totaling 10,000 square feet.” The potential community disbanded, and Jerry, now unable to talk, lives isolated in a small nursing home, with only occasional visitors.

This incident inspired Scott to turn his full attention to promoting co-housing and eventually building new communities. This fall, he is teaching a workshop on the co-housing concept at a local college. Communities International should launch its first Boomer-planned and Boomer-built project within the next 18 months.

One possibility is a community sited in a vineyard. “That fulfills a dream of many California Boomers,” he says. “Monastic communities have been based at vineyards for centuries. And members of the community could theoretically offset some of their living costs by running the winemaking operation as a business.”

Another possibility that appeals to many Boomers is a co-housing project for small business owners. There are already many neighborhoods where small business owners live in townhomes above the shops, restaurants, or professional businesses they operate. There’s no reason such an entrepreneurial neighborhood concept should not work well within a co-housing framework, with Boomer small business owners banding together to buy and plan the community in which they’ll both live and work.

As the housing market recovers, co-housing projects which need to be financed may be as appealing to potential lenders as they are to potential owners, Scott believes. “A major concern of every lender is ‘Will units in a particular project sell, and will the project be fully occupied?’ That’s never a problem with co-housing, because you know you have 100 percent occupancy before the ground is broken.”

In addition to US locations, Scott’s company is scouting out sites in Latin America, including Mexico. “Land use regulations tend to be very favorable,” he says. “Cost-of-living is often far lower, and there are active groups of ex-patriates in many locales.”

Scott believes that, paradoxically, the financial and political shocks of the past few years may prove to be beneficial to Boomers in the long run, because many have begun to rethink their futures in a positive way.

“Boomers now know it’s important to economize, to feel secure, and to be proactive about their futures, instead of just reacting to what life throws at them,” he comments. “Co-housing can be cheaper than many other alternatives, yet with more amenities and greater safety and security. It can provide a base for continued employment and productive endeavors. And communities can expand and change as residents age, according to their needs and desires.

“It’s an attractive concept in virtually every way.”

What Do You Think?

Could a “sophisticated commune” be part of your future?

What type of community might appeal to you most?

Would a project based on common professional or entrepreneurial goals interest you?

How about a co-housing project in Latin America or another ex-patriate haven?

Is isolation as you age a concern of yours? If so, what steps are you taking to combat it?

For the next story in the series, “Re-Engineered to Smithereens,” please go to: http://wp.me/pxD3J-B

For the Introduction to the Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation series: http://wp.me/pxD3J-3

For our hard-hitting article on Anti-Boomer Propaganda and How To Combat It, please visit: http://wp.me/pxD3J-8