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New office crisis: Boomers won't leave!

Dan Drezner

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: How you feel about the economy right now might well depend on where you are in the pecking order, generationally speaking. To use a personal finance term here for a second, financial horizons -- that is, the time any given person has left to work and save -- can vary widely. And in light of the great stock market crash of 2008, everybody's reassessing their economic future, including commentator Dan Drezner.


DAN DREZNER: The financial downturn has left all sorts of casualties in its wake: more unemployment, depressed wages, and greater economic uncertainty. But I'd like to direct my angst at a different target -- the baby boomers.

A hidden effect of this crisis is that, in the workplace, as in popular discourse, they simply refuse to get out of the way.

To understand my lament, you have to realize that the oldest of the baby boomers are on the cusp of retirement. For younger generations, this should be a cause for relief. For decades, Gen X-ers like myself have had to hear the standard declarations about the uniqueness of the baby boomers. Maybe they were not the Greatest Generation, but they were the ones who glorified the whole idea of generational identity. For decades, Gen X-ers have had to hear complaints about our political apathy, our popular culture, and our musical tastes.

We have suffered many of these critiques without complaint. Why? Because so many of us worked for so many of them. They were the bosses of the business world. And they were supposed to be retiring very soon, but the recession has changed all that.

In 2008, U.S. workers aged 55 to 64 who had 401(k)'s for at least 20 years saw their retirement balances drop an average of 20 percent. A recent YouGov poll showed two-thirds of this generation have not made the necessary adjustments in their financial planning. This is not a recipe for leaving the workforce anytime soon.

What does this mean for the rest of us? Younger workers who expected promotions when the boomers cleared out are going to have to stew in their own juices. With this job market, looking for a better opportunity elsewhere is not in the cards. Which means that Gen X-ers are going to have to listen to baby boomers doing what they do best -- talk about themselves.

Office politics across the country are going to get a lot nastier. Of course, it could be worse. Generation Y not only has to deal with the boomers, they have to cope with people like me complaining about them.

Ryssdal: Dan Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University.

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