WASHINGTON - In about 10 years, America will face a major crisis when the first wave of the baby boom generation hits retirement age, a predicament the country is unprepared for, AARP head William Novelli said yesterday.
With future employment likely to be a hassle, the future of Social Security in doubt, inadequate savings, and iffy health-care coverage, baby boomers will be the first generation unable to put down a lunch pail, sit on the front porch and say, “I'm retired now,'' said Mr. Novelli, 61, who is from a Pittsburgh steel-working family.
The study by the AARP (because it is courting younger members, it no longer is the American Association of Retired Persons) found that psychologically, baby boomers resemble younger Americans more closely than older Americans. They are optimistic about the future, but a third complain they do not have enough leisure time and they are worried about money. Boomers are least confident about achieving their goals in the same areas where they aspire to make the greatest gains: leisure and personal finance.
Sixty-four percent say they think a lot about the future and 77 percent say they expect their lives to get better. Only 41 percent of Americans 57 and older say that; 92 percent of Americans 18 to 37 expect life to get better. Asked to describe how they feel about the next five years, 64 percent say “hopeful,'' 55 percent say “confident,'' 49 percent say they expect those years to be “fulfilling,” and 46 percent say they expect them to be “exciting.''
Two-thirds say they are satisfied with their relationships with family and friends and consider that the most important aspect of their lives. But four out of 10 say they are not where they expected to be in terms of children and families at this point in their lives. Only one out of five boomers is satisfied with personal finances; a full 20 percent also say not having enough money is the worst thing in their lives. Four out of 10 say they are not satisfied with their careers.
“The sandwich generation is being chewed on at both ends,'' Mr. Novelli said. The boomer generation is struggling to help support aging parents and to pay college tuition for their children.
About 26 percent, however, say they are more satisfied than they expected with their religious or spiritual life and 54 percent say they are where they expected to be in their spiritual lives. Religious life is among the top three most important life areas to boomers; the others are family and friends and physical health.
The less money a family has, the more satisfied the boomers are to be with their spiritual life. And the boomers with more education are more likely to be satisfied with their lives in general, 87 percent to 82 percent.
But the majority of boomers lead a sedentary life and are not getting enough exercise, the No. 1 predictor of early death, Mr. Novelli said. He said AARP is conducting pilot studies in Madison, Wis., and Richmond, Va., on how to get people over 50 to exercise regularly.
About 86 percent of white American boomers say they are largely satisfied with their lives; 75 percent of African-Americans agree; 77 percent of Hispanic boomers agree. But African-American boomers are more confident overall than white or Hispanic boomers that they will achieve their goals.
Asked for sources of dissatisfaction in life, boomers mention too much debt, credit cards, laziness, lack of confidence or imagination, the cost of living or the stock market. Only 35 percent say nothing is keeping them from their goals.
Female boomers (44 percent) are more likely than male boomers (37 percent) to say their relationships with family and friends are the best aspect of their lives right now. But men (80 percent) are more likely than women (75 percent) to say they expect life to be better in five years. And men (32 percent) are a little more apt than women (25 percent) to say more money is their major ambition for the next five years.
Mr. Novelli said the biggest problem the boomer generation will face is declining quality of health care and escalating health-care costs. “We cannot sustain the current situation,'' he said, noting the United States spends more per capita than any other country and is the only industrialized country that does not provide health care for all citizens.
He predicted that Congress will pass some form of prescription drug coverage under Medicare next year. AARP claims to have 35 million dues-paying members and says it is drawing boomers at the same rate that it drew their parents.
“We will hold politicians accountable,'' Mr. Novelli said.