Seniors should join Generation X to change the aging landscape    

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kathleen s. connell

On the Inside by Kathleen S. Connell

Recently, AARP released survey results on the subject of Generation X turning 50.

For the uninformed, demographers dubbed those born between 1965 and 1979 as Generation X or Gen-Xers — the middle generation between baby boomers and millennials. They number around 62 million Americans.

The youngest grew up unfamiliar with Camelot and are only vaguely aware of the Vietnam War. Those turning 50 this year got to choose between Ronald Regan and Walter Mondale the first time they could vote (or not) in a presidential election. In their college years, they saw Best Picture Oscars handed out to the likes of AmadeusOut of AfricaPlatoon and The Last Emperor. Hit TV shows around in Gen-Xers’ developing years ranged from M*A*S*H to Cheers and Seinfeld. At the time, Hill Street Blues was considered gritty, cutting-edge TV drama. And speaking of television, Gen-Xers were just coming of age when CNN launched in 1980. The Beatles were history; Michael Jackson, Springsteen and, less we forget, MC Hammer were in the pop music spotlight.

I can’t say how any of these things shaped their character as the first wave of Gen-Xers grew into adulthood. But you have to agree it was notably different from their boomer parents’ youth.

According to the AARP survey, “Gen-Xers shoulder far more fiscal responsibilities than previous or future generations as they financially support their children and provide care for their aging parents. Americans are facing the reality that as life expectancy increases they must continue working and must rethink their notion of aging and retiring.”

With that in mind, I wondered what advice I might have to offer anyone turning 50 today.

Here’s what I decided: Work hard; live within your means; save as much can as you can for retirement; stay flexible in your career (you will get blindsided); pay attention to health and fitness; find some form of civic engagement and fight for your future;anticipate becoming someone’s caregiver. And then find a way to save a little bit more for retirement.

Well, well, well.

Turns out, this advice for Gen-Xers is the same I would give the next-up millennials. And when I think about it, it would have served most baby boomers quite well, too.

Interestingly, the AARP survey says that “though Gen-Xers feel less financially secure than their parents in regards to retirement, they also plan to work longer and embrace new opportunities in this evolving life phase.

“Most people turning 50 today can expect to live another 30-plus years, and many are already taking steps toward increasing their longevity – 87 percent consider themselves in good health and 55 percent maintain a healthy diet. They are re-imagining this life transition and expect their future years to be more flexible and rewarding than ever before.”

In short, the Gen-Xers get it. At least, they say they do.

The survey concludes they have little choice. This group will be the next generation to challenge outdated perceptions of aging and empower people to take control of their futures.

I would like to think those of us who are fossils from earlier generations still have plenty to offer Generation X. There are many years ahead that we’ll share. And we’d better share in speaking out on policy issues that could impact our lives in similar ways. Need I repeat that upcoming decisions about Social Security are as important to folks in their 50s as they are to people currently collecting benefits?

How’s this for an idea? Instead of thinking of us as different — and maybe if we agree that giving advice may not be as unique or profound as the advice-giver believes — we could start to recognize that becoming a part of the 50-plus population is something that brings us all together.

We’ll have the numbers required to disrupt aging and change the way everyone thinks.

If we could do that, we could create a powerful generation of our own.

Kathleen S. Connell is state director of AARP-Rhode Island. Contact her at kconnell@aarp.org.

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