Commentary: Baby boomers delaying retirement isn't good for economy

Charlotte ObserverDecember 29, 2010 

"The Big Chill," Hollywood's quintessential paean to bonding baby boomers, ended with the memorable last words, "We took a secret vote. We're not leaving."

Do you think that was a reference to their jobs? Jan. 1 officially marks the day when we boomers, or at least the oldest of the generation, would typically be moving into a twilight of Bermuda shorts and visits with the grandkids.

Demographers say that every day, for the next 19 years, some 10,000 boomers will turn 65. By 2030, 18 percent of the U.S. population will be over 65, compared with today's 13 percent.

Yet here's what economists are also saying: Thanks to a perfect storm of bad financial planning and an even worse economy, it'll be a long while before the American workplace sheds that powerful generation born between 1946 and 1964 (I'm a '63 baby).

Beyond new certainty that company-sponsored yoga classes aren't going away, it's hard finding positives in the approaching boomer glut.

The negatives come much easier. Among them: the threat to business innovation, whose lifeblood depends on pushing out old ideas to make room for new ones. What's a boomer to do?

In his acclaimed book "Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators: From Idea to Execution," Dartmouth professor Vijay Govindarajan argues that while a company's incremental successes might come from veterans, its big game-changing strides tend to come from younger workers able to "selectively forget" past products and processes, and who view the future as a blank slate.

In other words, the longer boomers postpone retirement and clog the workforce entryway, the longer it'll take industry to tap fresh ideas from its younger crop.

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