Monday, December 1, 2008

When Boomers Get the Boot

While some observers fret about what will happen when Baby Boomers retire en masse -- oops, there goes the institutional knowledge that keeps the organization humming -- many corporations see layoffs of high-salaried Boomers as a way to quickly prune expenses during periods of economic distress. Nowhere is that trend more evident today than in the news gathering business, both print and television.

Writes the New York Times:

Across the country, longtime local TV anchors are a dying breed. Facing an economic slump and a severe advertising downturn, many stations have cut costs drastically in the last year, and veteran anchors, with their expensive contracts, seem to be shouldering a disproportionate share of the cutbacks. When station managers are forced to make cuts, hefty anchor salaries are a tempting target. ...

When the anchors depart, they take decades of experience and insight with them. “Basically, you replace someone who knows City Hall with someone who can’t find it,” said John Beard, who lost his job at KTTV last December after 26 years as a news anchor in Los Angeles.

Local newspapers and televisions are hit harder than most industries, buckling under the double whammy of an acute advertising recession and a shift within advertising to the Internet. Watching these two industries implode is like watching the free-fall of the steel industry in the 1970s -- with the difference being that no one is quite sure there's a bottom for newspapers and local broadcast.

At the Boomer Project, we've always been sanguine about the employment prospects for Boomers. Retirement prospects are another matter entirely -- Boomers have barely saved a fraction of the funds they'll need to live a life of ease in their post-65 years. But so many industries have been sounding alarums about looming labor shortages when Boomers retire that we assumed Boomers could make up for their savings deficit by working as long as they wanted.

Or maybe not. When desperate times call for desperate measures, Boomers' seniority-padded salaries are a highly visible liability. (The article doesn't even touch upon the delicate subject of the disproportionate impact that Boomers have on an organization's medical insurance rates.)

What's a Boomer to do? One option: Start your own business when you're a GenXer. You're pretty safe from arbitrary layoffs when you're the boss. Another option: Start preparing for that second career. The New York Times article described how Ernie Bjorkman, a Denver, Co., television anchorman landed on his feet after getting sacked. Acting on a dream of working with animals, he'd completed a two-year veterinary technician program two weeks before getting the pink slip. Said Bjorkman: "I'm ready to reinvent myself."


Unknown said...

After focusing on making money, the 'new' retirement can be on making a difference. For many, that will require continuing to work, but the focus will not be primarily on income. Social entrepreneurship, working for non-profits (paid and unpaid), babysitting/caretaking family members are ways people will reinvent this period.

Elektra said...

Many boomers would like to make a difference, focusing on more social issues, however they can't afford the downtime. The conventional career lifecycle has not adjusted to increased longevity. Many boomers' parents are still living, so inheritance is delayed and diminished. That combined with interrupted career paths and a declining economy results in less retirement funds. Note that 60% of boomers have little or no retirement funds... and that statistic was PRIOR to the economic plunge. So, this leaves the majority of boomers in a financial conundrum as they scramble back to two head working households in small business, consulting and other options outside the closed doors of traditional employment.

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