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That Crazy Old Gray Lady

To the creaky generation of our grandparents, “retirement” meant a gold watch, followed by a lot of sitting around watching their hands spot until their hearts gave out, if they were lucky, around the same time as their meager savings.

Today’s graying boomers have so much more to look forward to, aside from the ignominy of being referred to as “graying boomers.”  They have motorcycle jaunts to visit their yachts, six-figure annual incomes to plow through before they expire, and millions to lavish on ungrateful grandchildren.

That’s according to the New York Times, which this week published a “Special Section” on RETIREMENT that had its high-income readership fogging up their bifocals in excitement.  In addition to ads featuring leather-clad grandparents jumping on Harleys to live their “Dream” (“It’s time to crack open that nest egg!”), or grinning seniors kayaking to the “freedom” of a retirement home (“Congratulations, you made it!”), one could also find helpful articles on:

·     How to retire to one of the many college towns looking to lure “affluent new residents”;

·     Retirement spending “prudence” for retirees with a nest egg of “at least $1.5 to 2 million”;

·     A helpful “Tax Checkup” column that includes this example:

“Say a couple has 10 grandchildren.  They could give each one $24,000 a year, and over 10 years move $2.4 million out of their taxable estate.”

There’s also an article on the growing “Yachting Class,” and one entitled “Making A Millionaire Feel Special Once Again,” guaranteed to boost the morale of our hordes of neglected millionaire retirees.

What, you might ask if you were prone to rhetorical outbursts, is going on here?!  Are these the relevant issues facing retirees, and if so, where did I go wrong?  Let’s say you don’t have a "dream" to drive or a yacht to pee in -- certainly, there’s not much useful advice for you in this handy pull-out section.  And if you’re not one of The New York Times’ affluent subscribers but happened to stumble across this 16-page advertising supplement while, say, pulling it from the trash to stuff into your sweater for warmth, you’re no doubt wondering how you could have screwed up your life so badly while everyone else is doing so great.

Well, you may be a loser but you're not alone.  According to the woefully named Employee Benefits Research Institute, 10% of the 35 million U.S. seniors over 65 live in poverty -- a number the EBRI says would grow to nearly 50% without Social Security (average monthly retiree windfall: about $1,000.00, or approximately .07% the cost of a full-page ad in the Times).

Of course, you've been warned not to entrust your golden years to Social Security, which is programmed to expire at exactly the moment you're filing for it.  But 50% of U.S. workers don't have a company pension plan; and the companies that employ the other 50% are getting tired of looking foolish, so you can count on those pensions disappearing like a plate of brownies at George Foreman's house.  With figures like these to look forward to, most retirees would probably consider themselves lucky if their kayak capsized on their way to the retirement home.

But don't blame the Times, which is simply printing all the news that fits what its advertisers are selling, to high-income retirees with investment properties and super yachts and pesky taxable estates that keep them up nights.  And whining about it on your way to retirement seems a silly waste of the precious little time you have left.  That gold watch is ticking.

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A Modest Proposal for a film by Kurt Engfehr and Ken Pisani.
© 2006 Ken Pisani and Kurt Engfehr.  All rights reserved.
All "Blogging Poorly" posts © Ken Pisani.