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.

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.

Let’s be frank right off the bat. My friend Art has had a career many might envy. Affable, talented, with a razor-sharp intellect, he once managed operations worth over a billion in today’s dollars and earned the respect of employees and customers alike.

But now, at age 59, Art fully admits his career’s at a temporary dead end. And he’s as dismayed and frustrated about it as those at lower rungs of the corporate ladder.

“Yes, we have some savings,” he says. “We don’t have kids in college, and we weren’t heavily involved in the stock market. But like so many other Boomers, I’m finding it hard to get a job now, even worthwhile consulting jobs.”

Art’s wife Susan, 57, has been able to find an accounting position in Nashville, where the couple lives. But she’s no longer a department head, as she once was. And Art has so far shied away from using his savings to launch an ambitious venture of his own. “I don’t know if I have the requisite ‘fire in the belly’ to be a committed lone wolf entrepreneur,” he tells me. “I’d really like to get back to what I do well, which is managing a major operation.”

How did a lauded executive with 30-odd years of top-level managerial experience end up grossly underemployed years before retirement age? Like so many Boomers, Art has essentially been the victim of “financial re-engineering,” that all-purpose grab bag term which has come to mean the perpetual rejiggering of a company’s products, properties, divisions, and all-too-often people, in order to squeeze the greatest possible financial returns out of a firm’s designated assets.

Art’s field is healthcare. But virtually every sector of the US economy has been affected by the spectre of financial re-engineering the past few decades. Old concepts of corporate integrity, mission, and loyalty to employees have flown out the window, say critics, to be replaced by an environment where short-term advantage has supplanted long-term goals and the Main Chance is the only chance that counts.

Here Today, Who Knows Where Tomorrow

“It was different when I started out,” says Art, with more than a tinge of nostalgia. Born and raised in a small town in the South, he comes from a mini-dynasty of rural physicians. His dad, granddad, and two great uncles were all country doctors, and his mother trained as a nurse.

But Art got a business degree from West Virginia University and started out in the audit division of a Big Eight accounting firm in Norfolk. Ironically, he ended up in healthcare, like his family, by doing such a good job for clients in that sector, a regional senior living chain recruited him.

So began 32 years working for six different companies in the healthcare sector, some of which seemed to be periodically chopped up, patched together, switched around, and swapped shamelessly like trading cards.

The first company Art worked for was purchased by a much larger competitor five years into his tenure. That worked out well for Art, who eventually became a divisional president, with responsibility for over 250 separate healthcare facilities. But when this company, too, was “re-engineered” by asset shufflers, his position disappeared, and he went to work for a smaller outfit, itself in the midst of a realignment of product and service lines, as well as one of the first “securitizations” of healthcare real estate assets.

Through these moves and re-positionings, Art observed major changes in basic corporate attitudes. “When I started working,” he observes, “competent, ambitious managers strove to prove their worth in line positions, overseeing operations, products, and people. Staff people were in the background, while those in line operations held sway.”

But by the 1980’s, things began to change rapidly. Financial re-engineering became all the rage, and operating executives took a back seat to a new crop of would-be “dealmakers,” whose main objective seemed to be shifting assets – and people – around for the quickest possible return.

Art was only in his 30’s then, but he remembers old timers’ resentment of a seemingly endless stream of newly-minted finance MBA’s, who swooped into corporate offices with confidence verging on conceit, convinced that they had reinvented the wheel and that those who failed to concentrate on immediate “optimization” of results were hopelessly behind the times.

“I guess these fellas are all over 40 now,” laughs Art. “But back then, they seemed very young and very zealous. Meanwhile, operations began to suffer, because the Best and the Brightest no longer wanted to spend their careers actually managing things, instead of shuffling assets and doing deals.”

At the turn of the Millennium, Art was recruited as a senior executive of a start-up company which was expected to evolve into a major player in assisted-living, home healthcare, and private caregiver services. Here, he experienced the fickleness of financiers and Wall Street’s frenzied chase for the financial fad of the moment.

“Our president and founder, a respected physician, had lined up what seemed to be very solid financing from a flamboyant venture capitalist,” Art relates. “We were promised substantial financial backing for several years, enough to provide a platform for sustained growth.”

But the superstar financier pulled out at the last moment, leaving the new company essentially high and dry. “It was those heady years of the Dot.Com Boom,” Art says, “and the financier decided healthcare wasn’t Boom-y enough. He abandoned us for some West Coast computer start-ups, telling us he could make incredible returns there – I think the figure was 30 percent a year. And No, I’m not sure what happened to him.”

What happened to Art was major disillusionment. The start-up couldn’t make it, and a subsequent short stint at another healthcare company also disappointed, as it, too, went through “re-engineering” and changed its focus. About two years ago, Art went out on his own, but he hasn’t enjoyed it much and would like to be part of a corporate team again, if the possibility presents itself.

“I’ll bounce back, and so will the Boomer generation,” he says confidently. “It’s good so many of us are angry. We’ll move through the anger and shake things up, as we always have.”

One thing that sorely needs shaking up, Art believes, is companies’ recent reliance on short-term financial gains at the expense of long-term prosperity, for themselves and their employees. “A company is only as good as its managers and its workers,” he says. “The entire corporate world has to get back to basics. And the root of those basics is operations.”

What Do You Think?

Have you or anyone you know been “re-engineered” right out of a job or a company?

How have corporations in the US and Canada gone astray?

Have Baby Boomers been particularly hurt by financial re-engineering?

Have those in line operations suffered at the expense of financial wiz kids?

Do you think many companies are finally seeing the light?

Will Boomers return to corporate jobs as the economy picks up, or will they prefer to take the entrepreneurial route back to financial prosperity?

For the next story in the series, “Will Boomers Save Twitter?” click on: http://wp.me/pxD3J-K

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

For a look at how “Sophisticated Communes” may take Baby Boomers full circle as we age, see: http://wp.me/pxD3J-x