Friday, July 18, 2014

They Didn't Want to "Let Go"

...That is, most baby boomers who have already left the workplace, didn't do so lightly. Many a boomer has gone to great lengths to stay actively engaged, before reluctantly letting go of the effort. After all, economic access gives individuals the chance of a continued normal life among friends, peers and family. Even the compensation of disability can be a letdown for some, compared to what they would rather accomplish if they were able. Before individuals were expected to gain income away from home and personal property, the point at which anyone needed to "let go" of work could be done more gradually and over time.

Normally it does not seem necessary to stress these factors. But when I read articles which take (too) lightly the absence of baby boomers in the workplace, there's a certain disconnect with the reality of present day work options. For one thing, discounting what made some boomers finally let go of the effort, would likely mean problems later on. Don't just hope that once the baby boomers are "gone", the workplace should return to "normal". If only it were that simple!

Still, one can almost hear a sigh of relief coming from Washington, after a detailed report in which the White House Council of Economic Advisers estimates that "only one sixth of the decline is attributable to a weak economy". Granted, the economy is somewhat stronger now, than it has been in recent memory. But the fact that labor force participation has been declining for more than a decade - let alone the fact only a small percentage of boomers are of retirement age - points to factors which in some instances have been papered over by the recent good news. For instance, the numbers of long term unemployed in this latest recession, point to issues which no one can afford to dismiss re economic access.

To be fair, those with knowledge work careers may not experience economic shifts quite the same way, as those who rely on multiple work options over the course of a lifetime. Also, many policymakers tend to live in cities where the changes of recent decades have generally trended positive, rather than areas which were once positive only to experience decline.

If I had worked in just one area (either geographic or type of work) all my life, I might not have noticed significant changes in the economy, either. For instance, one read around the year 2000 or 2001, that many alternative herbal remedies had reached a "tipping point" of representation in the marketplace. While few would likely notice market saturation in major cities where remedies of all kinds could still be found, many smaller towns and communities which had previously been able to profitably carry alternative remedies, were no longer able to do so. That presented problems in both supply and demand for healthcare options, which went largely unrecognized.

This tipping point was just part of an overall shift in retail, in which it became more difficult to make a "go" of various retail options in many regions. Unfortunately, the retail shift to prosperous areas got in the way of only one "game plan" for any number of baby boomers. There had been a proliferation of small business start ups, particularly in small towns in the first part of the new century. What was so alluring about the retail business gamble? It was a way for boomers to stay connected to the public, and what some had hoped to utilize as an early (partial) retirement option.

There were other related tipping points as well. Some boomers set out to create products for existing retailers in the marketplace, only to discover that store shelves had already become quite crowded. What's more, some of the space which had once existed for small business interests and independent brands, was being given over to large companies who were providing more variations on their basic product. As a result, recent efforts by boomers in these areas confronted what had become a common dilemma, for numerous start up options.

Another option that was tried by many boomers was variations on cooking establishments. Unlike the food trucks of the present, many of these options were more demanding, in terms of the overhead required and the fact that often a seven day workweek and full day open to the public was required to meet rent. That's not to say that boomers didn't want the challenge anyway - only that physical stamina starts to be compromised by one's forties and fifties.

Baby boomers tried many self employment options through the first decade of the new century, before the reluctant process of "selling oneself" to the workplace began anew. Who can blame potential employers for looking askance at self employment history, when no one can be called for verification? This was a hard time to renew one's (self employed) teaching capacity for instance, in that those who had (already) taught throughout adulthood had a definite advantage. Sometimes, before the final "destination" of disability became a consideration, more than a thousand resumes had been carried to or sent out to local businesses, before letting go. And of course, disability was primarily an option for those who clearly had the kind of health issues which warranted that choice.

Perhaps this post serves to give credit to those I observed over the last fifteen years, who tried with high hopes to start their lives anew.  Many of them met with varying degrees of success, hence managed to eke out something they could at least be happy with. Just the same, the experimentation and efforts of boomers since the turn of the century, deserve more credit than they sometimes receive. For one thing, these efforts tell a story that no one should be sweeping under the rug right now: the marketplace needs a better playing board for economic participation. In other words, don't just wait for the day when boomers are already out of the marketplace, to hope that all will be well.

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