WANTING IT ALL

Many baby boomers will work past retirement, but they will demand - and probably will get - more in the way of compensation.
By PATRICE APODACA
Los Angeles Times

America is facing a slow-motion crisis in the work-place, courtesy of what is arguably the most written about, joked about, some would say pampered, generation of Americans to ever earn a paycheck - the baby boomers.

As the nation's postwar offspring - who now make up nearly one-third of the population - edge toward retirement, employers are confronting a long-term work-force shortage.   By 2020, the number of people 55 and older will have soared by 73 percent, while the prime working-age group behind them will have grown just 5 percent.

This is a demographic shift without historical precedent.

In trying to fill their ranks, companies will have no alternative but to overcome the widespread perception of older workers as expensive and out of touch.  They'll have to find ways to keep boomers working longer - reversing the decades-old pattern of earlier and earlier retirement.

Many will no doubt be willing to keep working, since they'll either need money or find retirement boring.  But those independent-minded baby boomers will insist on doing it their way.  And that means organizations must become more flexible than ever, allowing workers to call the shots more about how and when they work.  "There's a real possibility that traditional work will be turned on its head," says Thomas J. Grass, an Irvine, Calif.-based consultant with Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a benefits consulting business.

Many experts see companies increasingly bending to the needs of an aging work force.   Telecommuting, job sharing, variable work schedules and worker "sabbaticals" could become the norm rather than the exception.

Benefits packages will be tailored more to the needs of older workers.

More companies will begin offering 401(k) plans to part-time workers, for example.   Benefits that help cover the costs of long-term care for

In 1950, nearly half of the men 65 and older were still working; by 1985, just 16 percent were.  But since then, the rate has remained flat.  Many economists believe the numbers soon will have begun to tick back upward.

The impact of baby boomers delaying retirement could be profound.

In their book "Workforce 2020," senior research fellows Richard Judy and Carol D'Amico of the Hudson Institute think tank predict that if enough baby boomers put off retirement, it could result in the creation of an additional hundreds of billions of dollars in economic output.

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