By Nancy Moffitt
With the baby boomer generation nearing 65, key players at a recent Wharton conference weighed in on retirement, a possible labor shortage, and the strengths of an older work force.
Matthew London watched his older brother move from the world of work to a fairly standard retirement—to hobbies, travel and volunteer work he hoped would keep his still-active mind sharp and give him a place to contribute.
But his decades of business savvy weren’t put to use in his new role as a hospital volunteer. The filing and other clerical work left him feeling empty, he confided to his younger brother—it seemed little more than “busy work.”
London, W’51, observed his brother’s new life with empathy—and wariness. “I didn’t want to retire and be unhappy,” he said. “I wanted to keep working—to stay in my field.”
And so he has. At age 75, London runs Philadelphia University’s distance learning program as well as teaching courses in its business school, a four-day-a-week schedule he has no plans to scale back. “It’s an enjoyable life,” he says. “I’m ready to keep on going.”
London is a part of an unprecedented demographic shift: in most of the developed world, the workforce is aging. In the U.S. alone, nearly 20 percent of American workers will be 55 and over by 2012, up from 12 percent in 1992. As the proportion of younger workers continues to decline, attracting and retaining mature workers will become all the more critical for businesses, with many labor economists predicting severe labor shortages by 2015.
From MSNBC to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the media is replete with stories about this “age wave” and the many issues that are just beginning to unfold as a result. Will the oft-predicted labor shortage really materialize? How will companies in the U.S. and abroad be affected by an aging workforce? What must mature employees do to remain current and valuable within organizations? And what should employers do to recruit, retain, train, and address the needs of older workers?
“Companies haven’t figured this out yet,” said William Novelli, C’63, CG’64, CEO of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). “On one hand, we have some executives asking how they should recruit and retain older workers. On the other hand, we have others asking how to get rid of them. We have conflicting trends at the moment—it will be interesting to see what happens. Right now, this is a story that’s unfolding.”
Last fall, Novelli and a slate of national experts gathered at Wharton to study and discuss the aging workforce at a one-day conference sponsored by the Wharton Center for Human Resources, Wharton’s Boettner Center for Pensions and Retirement Research, and the AARP. Labor economists from The Conference Board, corporate CEOs, academics and government officials from the U.S. Department of Labor shared thoughts on everything from the ability and performance of older workers to the benefits implications for an aging workforce.
“The big issue here is practical rather than policy,” says Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli, director of the school’s Center for Human Resources and a speaker at the conference. “With the baby boomer generation about to begin a wave of retirements, a very large group of experienced, often highly-skilled workers are leaving their current employers, and increasing numbers of them would like to be doing something in the labor market even if it doesn’t look like what they did before. If companies want to tap them, how do they do it? Employers who cannot adapt to embrace these workers will miss a significant source of competitive advantage.”
Brains Versus Brawn
When it comes to retirement, the changing nature of work couldn’t be more relevant. Novelli, 62, came from a family of steel workers in Pittsburgh, and when that generation retired, he says, they really retired. “I remember my Uncle Andy coming home one day, putting down his lunch bucket, and saying, ‘That’s it. I’m retired.’ And he was.” In those days, Novelli said at the Wharton/AARP conference, it was common for a young man to begin working alongside his father in the wheat fields, the factory or in construction as soon as he finished whatever schooling he was going to have—and to stay at that job throughout his adult life, like the generation before him. “If you didn’t die standing up—i.e., while you were still working—you were glad to retire, if you could afford to,” Novelli said. “The idea of the ‘older worker’ in those days meant workers who were old before their time.”
But those days are not these days, Novelli says. The proportion of the workforce involved in physical labor has dropped, with less than two percent of American workers today in agriculture and just 13 percent in manufacturing. Most factory workers and machinists are more highly skilled than their fathers, and their jobs involve using robots and computers, not lifting, plowing or wielding heavy hammers. “Brains and learned skills have dominated, if not completely replaced, brawn and endurance,” Novelli said. “More and more, knowledge workers predominate.”
Novelli maintains that since work has so fundamentally changed, ideas about work must change accordingly. But this change has been slow in coming, he says. Though older workers are protected by the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the law can’t change societal attitudes about age. “There are still employers and employees who believe that some magic number, say, 65, signifies an age when one should no longer work,” Novelli says. “The slow raising of the age for Social Security benefits to 67 doesn’t necessarily undo the stereotype. But more and more, America will come to believe that there is no fixed age for retirement, that work is important to people and organizations, and that age itself should not disqualify anyone from being hired or discourage anyone from seeking work.”
Other experts agree. Recent research reports in Harvard Business Review and Public Policy & Aging Report call for an end to the concept of retirement, arguing that the potentially debilitating mass retirement of the baby boom generation threatens to starve businesses of key talent over the next decade. The idea of retirement is outdated, write the authors of an article called “It’s Time to Retire Retirement,” and should be “put out to pasture in favor of a more flexible approach to ongoing work, one that serves both employer and employee.” Retirement as we know it, they point out, is a recent phenomenon created during the Depression when the government, unions and employers were desperate to make room for younger employees in the workforce. Institutionalized retirement was born, complete with social security and pension plans.
And 80 percent of boomers plan to work at least part time during their retirement, an AARP/Roper Report survey found. Many, after decades of profligate spending and meager saving, have to work. But most, like London, are eager to keep learning, to stay engaged, to avoid boredom and restlessness.
A Coming Labor Shortage?
Peter Cappelli has made a career of charting the often-turbulent course of employment in America, from studies on downsizing to a book on managing in a market-driven workforce. Cappelli maintains that pronouncements from the U.S. Census Bureau, The Conference Board and others of an inevitable dearth of labor are overstated. “Many of the studies that foresee labor shortages in the future assume that retirement patterns will be unchanged, and that people will retire at the same age even as life expectancy and the ability to work longer go up,” Cappelli writes in his article, “Will There Really be a Labor Shortage?,” published in a recent issue of Public Policy & Aging Report. “Surely this is unrealistic if for no other reason than financial resources for retirement may not allow it. There are many indications that the baby boom generation expects to keep working longer, and even a small increase in the retirement age (to 67 by 2027) of baby boomers will increase labor supply substantially because this cohort is so large.”
Nonetheless, the labor market is undeniably changing, Cappelli says. The dominant demographic event of the last century, the baby boom’s entry into the labor market, led what became a long period of economic stagnation, with many workers, especially young ones, finding it difficult to find jobs. From the 1970s through the late 1990s, most employers had an abundant supply of labor, Cappelli says, a situation that made it possible to overlook the gradual decay of human resources practices. “They didn’t have to be good at recruiting when overqualified applicants were queuing up at their door, they didn’t have to worry about retention when no one was quitting,” he says. “They didn’t have to develop employees when corporate hierarchies were shrinking and what talent was needed could be hired from the outside. And when companies were downsizing and restructuring, human resource functions were the first thing cut.”
Between 1998 and 2001, however, this labor surplus began to dry up and wages sharply rose. Employers, their HR competencies eroded, faced entirely new challenges: For the first time, their employee turnover rates increased dramatically, forcing employers to hire continuously; meanwhile, rapid reorganizations pressured companies to hire employees with new skills and expertise from the outside. “Companies concluded that because hiring alone could not meet their staffing challenges, the problem was beyond their control and must be because of a labor shortage,” Cappelli said. “But the problem was that many employers relied solely on recruiting, when in fact retention management should have been at least as important.” By the time companies began to create the sophisticated recruitment, retention and performance management programs necessary, the economy began to slide into a recession, and virtually all of the new jobs and retention issues dried up.
Cappelli predicts that when the economy rebounds significantly, companies will once again be ill-prepared. “It would be as much a mistake to believe that the slack labor markets of the 2001 recession have eliminated the challenges facing employers as it would be to believe that we are facing an inevitable shortage of workers,” he says. “No one knows whether future labor markets will be tight or slack—it depends almost entirely on growth and productivity prospects in the economy—but it’s also fair to say that the persistent labor surpluses from the baby boom may not be back any time soon.”
Employers, he argues, must develop competencies in recruitment and selection, performance management and retention policies, and an important part of these practices are skills in managing older workers.
“The days of lifetime employment and seniority-based systems are largely over now as companies move toward models of contingent work, independent contracting, and more free-market arrangements,” Cappelli says. “There’s a tremendous fit possible between the enormous pool of older workers re-entering the market and these flexible work systems if employers can create policies and practices that accommodate older workers.”
Other researchers are more alarmist. “The problem is pretty clear,” write the authors of “It’s Time to Retire Retirement” in the Public Policy & Labor Report. “Workers will be harder to come by. Tacit knowledge will melt steadily away from your organization. And the most dramatic shortage of workers will hit the age group associated with leadership and key customer- facing positions.” Several key sectors—health care, education and retail—are most likely to feel the pinch.
Despite “irrefutable” evidence of workforce aging, most recruiting, training and leadership development dollars are directed toward younger employees—actions tantamount to “marching their companies straight off a demographic cliff,” the authors continue. A recent survey by the Society of Human Resource Management found that two-thirds of U.S. employers don’t actively recruit older workers, 80 percent don’t offer flexible work arrangements or other incentives that tend to appeal to older workers, and more than half don’t actively work to retain key older workers.
A growing number of companies, however, are forsaking their one-size-fits-all HR policies, and the reason, experts say, is to connect or reconnect with mature employees.
Older Workers Wanted
When four hurricanes battered Florida last year, insurance heavyweight The Hartford scrambled to deploy the hundreds of claims adjusters necessary to respond to thousands of commercial and residential claims. The company’s retirement “reactivation” program was a key in managing the chaos, said Hartford CEO Ramani Ayer during the Wharton/AARP conference. The program calls on retirees when they are needed, allowing workers to maintain ties to their employer and supplement their income while taking the burden off of The Hartford during its most critical times. “We had to mobilize claims professionals from all over Florida. We’d had four hurricanes, and we had to be responsive,” Ayer said. “We called on our claims professionals who had retired to help us, and it was wonderful for customers to meet and deal with an experienced professional rather than a temp or a junior employee.”
Such elastic arrangements are vital to recruiting and retaining mature workers, experts say. At the Hartford, where 12 percent of new hires in 2003 were over 50, the menu of flexible options includes compressed work weeks, temporary part-time, telecommuting, phased-in retirement, phased-in return to work, job sharing and reduced hours.
“Attracting older workers means creating policies and practices that accommodate them—going somewhat further down the path to flexibility than many employers might be comfortable with,” says Cappelli. “Older workers do not necessarily want to work the long schedules of their younger counterparts, and they might not be as willing to manifest the ‘commitment’ and ‘rah rah’ spirit that some organizations require even of their contractors. But these workers offer skills and competence and are often willing to work for much less money than their younger, more career-minded counterparts.”
Businesses seeking older employees should create nontraditional recruitment strategies, such as supplementing standard recruiting packages with material tailored to older workers, posting job announcements with photographs of workers of all ages, and partnering with senior associations to advertise positions. Home Depot, for instance, knew it needed 135,000 new workers this year to fill spots created by expansion and turnover. The company, with 15 percent of its workforce already over age 50, created a partnership with AARP to aggressively recruit more older workers.
Even subtle messages in help-wanted advertising can dissuade mature employees from applying for positions. An ad that stresses “energy” and “fast pace” might appear to target a younger hire, while language such as “experience,” “knowledge” and “expertise” would likely have more appeal to an older audience, researchers stress in Public Policy & Aging Report. Identifying a business as an “Equal Opportunity Employer” and adding, “This Company values workers of all ages” can also go a long way.
When designing employee training programs, companies should keep age-related learning styles in mind, said Neil Charness, a Florida State University psychology professor and leading expert on ability and performance of older workers, at the Wharton conference. Self-paced learning is best for older workers, while the young fare better with “discovery” methods that allow them to use their learning speed to make connections. Older workers, who learn more slowly, are better served by procedural methods, which allow them to tap into to their extensive knowledge base, Charness said. And while older workers may take longer to learn new technologies, once they do, they learn similar programs as quickly as younger workers.
It’s true that differences exist between younger and more mature employees, Charness said, but perceptions that older workers are less productive and competent are untrue. Verbal ability, which also measures knowledge, increases with age, peaking in the early 70s, while other factors such as spatial ability, working memory, memory and recall, and perceptual speed decline starting in the 20s. But because knowledge is the strongest predictor of productivity, older workers remain as productive as younger workers, Charness said.
“Change is inevitable,” Novelli says. “There is a stereotype that older workers can’t adapt to change. Older workers don’t learn the same way that younger workers do, but the literature shows that they do adapt to change well.”
What can mature workers do to overcome these sometimes stubborn stereotypes? Wharton alumni, professors and experts like Novelli say that employees have opportunities, but they also have responsibilities. “Their responsibility is to stay employable,” Novelli says. “That is every intelligent worker’s obligation. And the way to do that is to prove yourself on the job. Learn new things. Try new things. Take lateral moves. Those are the kind of things that employers tend to value at every level.”
“People have to plan financially and career wise,” Novelli adds. “They have to do an inventory of skills and interests and ask themselves if they want to change careers and career paths. Today, people are more emboldened to do that than our fathers and mothers were.”
A Reason to Get up in the Morning
London seems to have followed this advice intuitively, switching gears completely mid-life and then creating a role, later, that gracefully served both him and his employer. He closed his family business of 30 years, a Philadelphia textile manufacturer, in 1979 after industry- wide hard times. In his late 50s, London pursued his growing passion for computers as an assistant professor of information science and director of the academic computer centers at Philadelphia University, then Philadelphia College of Textile and Science.
Fifteen years later, facing heart bypass surgery, he told his employer that he needed to “retire” from his previous administrative post, but wanted to keep working in some capacity. As he recovered from his surgery, London and Philadelphia University worked out the fine print: he’d scale back to a three-day-a-week computer support staff member and part-time faculty member. Today, London runs the school’s distance learning operation and continues to teach. “When people retire there are three things they have to be able to do,” he says. “They have to have a reason to get up in the morning, they have to be with other people, and they have to keep their brain active and keep learning. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to do that. I’m doing something different than what I did for the 15 years I was here full time. I’m constantly being asked questions by people on the staff here, and you have the feeling that you are needed.”
Like many older workers, finances were definitely a factor in London’s decision to keep working. While he had enough to get by, he felt he and his wife Lila needed a little more of a cushion to be truly worry-free. “There was always that need for that little bit more to fill in,” he says. “But the main reason really was that I had seen too many people retire and be unhappy. I wanted to stay in the field.”
He believes his desire to keep learning and comfort with change are essential to his ongoing success. “I don’t try to ever say ‘Well this is the way we used to do it.’ I realize that things have to change.”
William Hayes, WG’60, acknowledges that he didn’t want to retire when New York-based Walter Frank & Co., the NYSE specialist firm where he’d long served as a partner, was sold to Goldman Sachs in 2002. “Many ‘mature’ people find themselves replaced by younger people,” he said. “This really has to do with a cultural change—employers want people who are aggressive, forward, very energetic, while the ‘mature’ generation grew up in an era when this somewhat pushy persona was not accepted.”
But although Hayes, 69, found he had to leave his employer more than 20 years post-merger, he transitioned smoothly to a busy retirement filled with volunteer work linked closely to his life’s work. “I am finding retirement very rewarding,” he says. “Part of that is being in New York, where so much goes on every day, but I also do pro bono career consulting for members of the New York Society of Security Analysts and am part of the summer mentor/ student program. This keeps me in touch with all generations and with what is going on,” says Hayes, a two-term president and long-time board member of the New York Society of Security Analysts.
In the world of financial services, asset managers need never retire—if they have their own customers, Hayes notes. “Client control is a big divide,” Hayes says, pointing to New York asset manager Irving Kahn, now in his mid- 90s and still going strong. “Those without it are vulnerable, drifting; those with it thrive. You can be working until your 100th birthday if you have your own customers.”
In recent months, Hayes has noticed an intriguing employment trend he urges other mature executives to seize upon: high-level options within the non-profit world. “I see ‘older’ people—by that I mean 50-plus years—being competitive for executive jobs in non-profits, where they don’t seem to face the age/youth challenges in the for- profit world,” he says. “I think many non-profits value experience more.”
Many non-profits have or are in the midst of being restructured to become more competitive, Hayes says, and are adopting modern management and marketing practices. “I think more mature workers should actively pursue this area. Many probably don’t realize the management revolution now going on in the non-profit world,” he adds. “I have seen some very senior financial types recycle themselves in non-profits after being let go—it looks good on a resume, gives them something to do, is a good platform to keep up and make contacts. After a few years at a non-profit, sometimes for pay, sometimes pro bono, they emerge in another top job.” .
Frequent contributor Nancy Moffitt is the former editor of the Wharton Alumni Magazine.
Reaching Out to Older Workers in America: A Sampling
Deloitte Consulting: Created a Senior Leaders program after looking at its demographics and realizing that by 2003, 40 percent of its then partners would be 50 or older and eligible to retire. The firm didn’t want to lose this talented group of men and women en masse, so it developed the program to help partners in their 50s redesign their career paths.
Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. and St. Mary’s Medical Center of Huntington, West Virginia: Created hiring practices that target retirees, including hiring retirees as temporary employees and replacement workers as well as establishing pools of retirees who could be called in times of increased labor demand. Other programs reintroduced retirees as full-time employees.
The Home Depot and CVS pharmacies: Actively courted older workers through partnerships with AARP, the National Council on Aging, city agencies and community organizations.
Deere & Company: Created a self nomination process for job openings and career movement. Managers are encouraged to seek out new opportunities with employees as a part of their annual performance review process, and the company has many team and special assignments that are provided for development, along with task forces, presentations and steering committees. For older workers, the programs and culture of new opportunities provide skill building and mobility.
Scripps Health of San Diego CA: Addressed the issue of workplace flexibility in two complementary ways: flexible work options and job sharing. Job sharing is available to all employees; two employees in the same job position can share the same job, work fewer hours, and still keep their skills current. This is in addition to a menu of flexible work options available, such as compressed work weeks and telecommuting, for employees phasing into retirement.
Volkswagon of America Inc.: Created flexible spending accounts for elder care, allowing employees to allocate $5,000 in pretax earnings for this purpose. By choosing to steer funds into a mature worker-focused benefits program, the company sends a message that they are valued and wanted, experts say.
Sources: AARP 2004 Employer Best Practices executive summary; Public Policy & Aging Report
Benefits for Older Workers? Don’t Count on Them
When Professor Olivia Mitchell told the audience at the November 10, 2004 conference on older workers, “Just don’t get old, don’t get sick, don’t retire…and you’ll be fine,” she had everyone’s attention. Mitchell is the executive director of Wharton’s Pension Research Council and director of the school’s Boettner Center for Pensions and Retirement Research. At the conference, sponsored by the Boettner Center, Wharton’s Center for Human Resources and AARP’s Global Aging Program, Mitchell talked about benefit plans for older employees and the restrictions in store for these plans as the workforce ages.
Changing Universe of Benefits
Once known as “fringe benefits,” employer-provided benefits include health insurance, life and disability insurance, paid time off, and pensions and medical benefits for retired former employees. As Mitchell explained, however, these benefits are now far from “fringe.” “In the U.S. and other countries, employers are the nexus for the whole insurance picture—healthcare and pensions, specifically.” In the U.S., according to Mitchell, the cost of providing these benefits to employees now amounts to nearly 30% of companies’ labor costs.
Some of this cost is due to legally required benefits, including the taxes paid by corporations to cover workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. But the lion’s share of the tab is filled by voluntarily-provided benefits, which come to 20% of total payroll costs, said Mitchell. As of now, and despite dramatic cost increases, nearly all companies continue to offer these voluntary benefits: 76% of employees were offered health insurance by their employers in 1987; 74% were provided coverage in 2001. As the workforce ages, the cost of providing health coverage in particular is expected to rise sharply.
Since these benefits are “voluntarily-provided,” companies are under no legal pressure to continue offering them, but they have certainly become a social expectation, said Mitchell. In fact, because providing health insurance to groups of people (which spreads the risk for the insurer) is so much less expensive than providing coverage to individuals, it is often very difficult for individuals to obtain insurance coverage if it is not through their employers. As a result, rather than discontinue benefits as costs rise, companies are instead passing more of these costs along to their employees.
Why Provide Benefits, Anyway?
As Mitchell pointed out, 100 years ago the American economy was primarily agricultural, with most workers self-employed or working in family-run farms or businesses. There were few wage-based jobs and therefore, few ‘benefits’ in the sense that we know them now. This employment picture began to change following World War II with the “golden age” of benefits emerging from the 1950s through the mid- 1980s as the economy shifted to industrial and urban wage- based jobs. “Initially, the effort focused mainly on protecting workers against income loss in the event of workplace accident and illness—which led to insurance coverage for disability and premature death,” Mitchell explained. Later, pension programs were added.
Companies were able to provide these benefits at a relatively low cost; they received significant tax breaks for doing so, and economies of scale allowed them to receive a cost break for pooling their employees into a lower-risk group for insurance coverage. “It was also a big part of attracting top candidates, part of an overall attract-retain-motivate strategy,” Mitchell said. “Then, on the other end, defined benefit pensions were retirement-inducing. They were in place to get you to leave when you were past your prime.”
A lot has happened since the corporate benefits system first emerged, and the changes continue to advance more rapidly now than ever. First, few people today stay at one job for anywhere near as long as they did in the previous generation. “There are no 20, 30 or 40-year careers anymore,” Mitchell said, which means that traditional pension benefits do not carry the same incentive value as in years past. Instead, “employees want benefits that can be tailored to their needs and their lifestyles at the particular point in time that they are with a company.”
These changes have translated to a demand from employees of all ages for flexible spending options for health insurance and medical care, as well as a move towards defined contribution pension plans—such as 401(k)s—over the traditional defined benefit plans of earlier years. Added to these shifts is the reality of the graying workforce, which has greater need for medical care, and simultaneous increases in healthcare costs generally, which have combined to make the provision of benefits to employees an extremely expensive proposition for employers.
To address the realities of providing benefits to a changed workforce, companies have shifted to what Mitchell calls a “disintermediated” benefits system, or an “a la carte” menu of benefits from which employees choose and are then partially charged for their participation. In practice, this means that companies no longer select a one-size-fits-all healthcare program, but rather provide several insurance options to employees for health insurance, dental insurance, even vision and prescription coverage. Employees choose what level and type of coverage they would like—or may opt not to participate at all. Similarly, rather than enrolling everyone in the same pension program that pays out a set amount at retirement (defined benefit), companies now provide programs such as 401(k)s for which employees must choose to enroll, then choose how much of their earnings to contribute (defined contribution pension plans), then also choose what funds to invest their retirement savings in.
Even though the menu approach has for the most part been welcomed—even demanded—by employees, Mitchell noted that as the cost of healthcare options rise, participation rates have dropped: “89% of employees who were offered healthcare coverage took it in 1987, but the figure dropped to 82% by 2001.” And the same effects can be seen in the pension programs: Rather than 100% employee noted that as the cost of healthcare options rise, participation rates have dropped: “89% of employees who were offered healthcare coverage took it in 1987, but the figure enrollment in traditional defined-benefit pension programs, Mitchell said that in 1987, only 38% elected to contribute to their voluntary retirement funds, and in 2001 that number had risen to just 43%.
The menu approach allows employees a high degree of “choice” in what their benefits package actually looks like. But according to Mitchell, “choice” isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. Many employees, overwhelmed by the financial choices available in their pension funds, for example, are “overinvested in their own employers’ stock, despite several high-profile flameouts that we have seen over the last few years,” simply because it’s easiest for them to choose to invest their pension monies in their own company’s stock. “Menu construction seriously affects choices as well,” she added. “Most people focus on the top of a list of fund choices and stop reading after the first three or four. They are not choosing the best options; they are just overwhelmed by how much choice there is.”
In addition, many people simply aren’t saving enough to ever cover their costs in retirement. And others have opted out altogether, completely paralyzed by the overwhelming number of choices presented to them. “Employees have to answer: Do I want a particular benefit? Which one do I want? How much will it cost? How much do I need to spend on a benefit such as this? How do I annuitize this spending?” said Mitchell, who recently edited a book entitled, Benefits for the Future Workplace. “All of these are complicated questions—and they are a lot to ask from people” who generally are not sophisticated when it comes to making investment decisions.
So, What’s Next?
According to Mitchell, as the current crop of near-retirees age, they will be faced with the cumulative effect of these challenges to their benefits picture. Most have not saved nearly enough, or their savings have been hit by the recent fluctuations in the financial markets. They will likely not have health care provided in retirement by their former employers, and healthcare costs will only continue to rise. Those “lucky” enough to still be recipients of defined benefit pensions may be surprised when they discover how underfunded most corporate pension funds are. For example, “the unfunded portion of DuPont’s pension program is equal to the company’s global assets,” Mitchell said. And Social Security certainly won’t be the answer, either. “Social Security benefits payouts are dramatically increasing because of the baby boomers aging. By 2018 the system will be taking in less in tax contributions than it will be paying out,” she added.
The result? Mitchell predicts, as conference attendees heard from nearly every other speaker at the symposium, that baby boomers will need to remain in the workforce far longer than employees in the last generation, and much longer than they themselves may have anticipated. She returned to her earlier comment: “Like I said, just don’t get old, don’t get sick, don’t retire…and you’ll be fine.” Still, Mitchell did offer some advice for future generations of employers and employees. “We need to financially educate our citizens more and earlier, outside of the company-based benefits environment, because companies will not be the nexus of benefits and pensions in the future. Cleary, this is not a good model going forward. As it changes, people will need to consult financial professionals more and will need to understand the financial choices they are faced with in order to operate in this complex environment.”