“OK, Boomer” has become the go-to ad hominem attack on people 55 years and older. It’s become a socially acceptable meme for younger generations to blame all of the evils and problems of society on a certain group of people.
We know that it’s not right nor is it fair to target one class of people and make wild generalizations about everyone that falls into that group. While it feels good to rage and get it out of your system, the blame game on Boomers is not as simple as it seems.
The current trend of anti-Boomer anger centers on the accusation that Baby Boomers have taken all the good jobs. They refuse to surrender their job privilege and remain gainfully employed, despite the entreaties of younger workers begging for a chance to advance. The Millennials, Generation Z and Gen-Xers say they’re stuck in their jobs and can’t advance because the Boomers just won’t leave. According to a recent USA TODAY/LinkedIn survey of 1,019 working professionals, 41% of Millennials—and 30% of all adults—reported that it’s difficult to advance within their fields because Boomers are waiting longer to retire.
Boomers contend that Millennials job hop too much. This characterization is a bit unfair, as younger generations may be forced to move due to the inability to move up the corporate ladder at their current companies. It isn’t, however, because the older generation is staying firmly entrenched and holding onto their jobs out of malice or spite. The reality is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in America. Most Boomers don’t have sufficient funds to retire. They lost a lot of their savings during the financial crisis and Great Recession. Then, they were afraid to reinvest in the stock market and missed out on the ensuing 10-year bull market. Their money went into savings accounts, which yielded a meager 1% or less.
The vast majority of Boomers either have no real retirement savings or very little money put away. A good chunk of their net worth is tied up into their homes. This is an illiquid investment. To unlock its value, they would have to sell and move. For many, it’s a last resort because they would then need to find a new job.
There is blatant ageism when it comes to Boomers—coupled with a reticence of managers to pay the high salaries they require. A move could mean long stints of unemployment, underemployment or not finding a job at all. Many Boomers, due to societal norms, spent a lot of their earnings. Their retirement will need to be funded by Social Security, which is not nearly enough.
They will either have to work into their late 70s or take part-time jobs at Walmart, Home Depot or get involved with a gig job driving Ubers. Yes, there are Boomers with a lot of money, but that’s only a small portion of them. The sad truth is that the majority of Boomers need the steady paycheck to survive.
The reality is that it is difficult for everyone in corporate America. Bosses are mean, callous and take you for granted. You’ll get passed over for a promotion, in favor of the manager’s pet employee. Rapidly changing shifts in the business world, including technology, automation and globalization, may make your job irrelevant and no longer needed. Cost-cutting measures mean that you won’t get a raise and have to worry about getting fired. There is intense competition among peers to gain the good assignments to fast track their own careers. You encounter petty jealousies, backstabbing and will be thrown under the bus from time to time. You have to wake up early in the morning when it’s pitch black outside, embark upon a long and uncomfortable commute on crowded buses, trains and highways, work a full day dealing with dozens of small insults and rudeness, commute home, wolf down dinner, do a little more work and then the cycle repeats itself tomorrow.
It’s a convenient excuse to blame Boomers for everything, but that’s just scapegoating. Our system can generously reward people financially, but it also grinds them up and spits most people back out. It would be nice to actually point to one thing as the root cause and then everything changes for the better. It’s, unfortunately, the nature of work itself— tough, unfair, capricious, unfeeling, pressure-filled and fraught with downside risks. Until we come up with a solution, there’s no reason to play the blame game to make yourself feel better. Instead, just do your best to manage your own career and build a better future.