When the ball drops in Times Square this year it will be the start of a new era as the first Baby Boomers are set to retire. Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, born 12:00:01 on January 1, 1946 holds the distinction of being the first Baby Boomer and will soon add the title of the first baby boomer retiree. USA Today and other national media have greeted Ms. Casey-Kirschling’s impending retirement with great fanfare. Others, including my dear old friend Nightly Business Report blogger Darren Gersh have used her milestone to restart the call for drastic changes to Social Security. Darren uses Ms. Casey-Kirschling’s early retirement at 62, before she is eligible for full benefits, as evidence of a lazy and greedy generation set on living off the backs of younger generations. Darren writes, “The largest generation in the history of the United States is about to retire into a system that is not sustainable as currently structured. Yet that generation is not going to be part of the solution.” What I think Darren misses is that the baby boomer are set to give back in record and unprecedented numbers. All 77 million members of the Baby Boomer generation will have passed their 60th birthdays by 2025. If strategically mobilized, older adults can fill gaps in areas such as education, health care, and family support. The net result would be billions of tax dollars saved through wise forethought and planning. Surveys by AARP and Civic Ventures show that Boomers plan a different retirement to their parents: they want to give something back to their communities. More than half of those who want to give back say that helping children and young people is important to them.
When it comes to Social Security reform, it is important to remember that any changes to Social Security must preserve the funding integrity of the program. Social Security is not just an old age pension program; it is also an intricate intergenerational social safety net. Thirty percent of recipients of Social Security are not elderly; they are children and families that receive support through the disability and survivors benefits that keep them out of threatening reach of poverty.