WASHINGTON With millions of baby boomers reaching retirement age, fears are mounting of the economic impact if they follow the pattern of previous generations by curbing spending and draining Social Security and Medicare benefits.
But the 78 million boomers born from 1946 to 1964 have always broken the mold in terms of setting trends, and some investors and business and community leaders see their retirement as no different. They see an unprecedented, multi-billion-dollar opportunity to offer new products and services to an active demographic group thats expected to live longer than previous generations.
When Elizabeth Reighard started her fitness training business in Myrtle Beach, S.C., four years ago, most of her students were in their mid-30s. But now her client list is made up mainly of boomers, such as Mary Smith, 58, who hired Reighard to help her keep up with the grandkids.
The demand for fitness trainers such as Reighard is expected to jump 24 percent over the next decade, largely because of baby boomers who want to stay healthy longer, according to the Department of Labor. Im seeing it more and more. Seniors know they have to be in better shape to have less aches and pains, said Reighard, whos also a boomer.
The Census Bureau projects that Americans 65 and older will make up 19 percent of the population by 2030.
Community and business leaders in places such as the coastal towns of Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Bluffton, S.C., are looking to the growing retirement community to help rekindle local economies. Theyre rethinking sporting and shopping developments, as well as art centers, to attract on-the-go retirees looking for an array of activities.
Impact on the labor market
On the labor front, the health care industry is the most obvious benefactor of a longer-living active community. Demand for home-health aides is expected to grow 70 percent over the next decade.
Demand also will be high in less obvious fields, such as for architects, who will be called on to build senior-friendly communities; financial advisers, to help boomers plan their retirements; recreation workers, wholl lead boomer-tailored excursions; and job trainers, wholl teach the new workers called on to replace retirees.
Its only in Washington that 100 million people are viewed as an unaffordable cost and financial burden, said Jody Holtzman, a senior vice president at AARP. In the private sector, 100 million people are called a market and an opportunity.
Concern about a drain on entitlements from retiring baby boomers has increased as talks intensify over avoiding the fiscal cliff. The Congressional Budget Office warned in June of a shortfall for entitlement programs, as aging boomers would consume a significant and sustained share of benefits from Social Security, Medicare and long-term-care services financed by Medicaid, the health care program for the poor.
Those projections fail to take into account that boomers are expected to work longer and theyve never followed in the footsteps of previous generations, said Matt Thornhill, an author of Boomer Consumer, a book that examines marketing to the baby boomer generation.
We became the generation of consumption and personal gratification, Thornhill said. Boomers are not going to spend at all like the prior generations did at 65. Theyre going to spend at boomer levels. And theres millions more of them.
Jeet Singh, who helped develop e-commerce software used by online retailers such as Best Buy and J. Crew, said retirees hadnt been treated with respect in terms of offering them well-designed high-quality products without announcing their ages.
You just cant fight the numbers, said Singh. All these people are out there. They have needs. Whether its what they eat, what they buy, where they shop, how they vacation.
Whats your 50-plus plan?
Sam Farber created Oxo Good Grips in 1990 when he noticed that his wife had trouble holding kitchen tools because of arthritis, according to the companys history. Farber saw a business opportunity in creating more comfortable cooking tools. Oxo now makes more than 850 products that appeal across generations.
Holtzman of AARP likes to share that story when hes trying to inspire entrepreneurs. Hes met with hundreds of venture capitalists, encouraging them to ask one additional question when entrepreneurs are seeking startup money: Whats your 50-plus plan?
The one question a startup doesnt want to get from its board of directors is this one: Why did you leave money on the table by ignoring a market of 100 million people with $3.5 trillion to spend? he said.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less