Run to the hills

The baby boomers are at it again. As usual, they are defying convention, this time concerning their retirement.

The baby boomers are at it again. As usual, they are defying convention, this time concerning their retirement.

This generation can be both commended and reprimanded for a wide range of attitudes and practices left in their wake. We can thank them for the sexual revolution of the 1960s and hate them for the current materialistic culture. We can applaud them for advocacy concerning higher education and be disenchanted with them for driving up the divorce rate. They have brought into the American mainstream instant gratification practices and entitlement factors that have created so many problems for those of us in the generations behind them.

Love them or hate them, they are still here and will continue shaking it up in their approaching twilight years. Apparently, they are going to be shaking it up, country style, as they move away from urban areas during their retirement.

Boomers are now ranging in age from 45 to 63 and looking forward to retirement amid much speculation. Being that they are by far the largest generation, their actions tend to create large trends with consequences. Where will they live? How will they spend their money? A popular notion among urban planners has been that boomers will sell their large—and in many cases suburban—houses and downsize to condos in the city. Many have believed they will want to spend their leisure years bumming around and spending their money in a lively urban setting close to their families and other amenities.

Portland is certainly prepared for this to happen, and would be glad of the purchases of empty condos and other economic boosts this would certainly create. Unfortunately for Portland and other Pacific Northwest cities, there is a new trend for boomers: They’re retiring in their own indulgent way, just as they have done with everything else, for instant gratification and not for long-term logic.

According to The Oregonian and brand new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a significant amount of boomers are now expected to leave their homes in the suburbs and head for small town and rural areas of the Pacific Northwest. The baby boomers want to live their “young” retirement years in an outdoor recreational setting close to mountains and other beautiful scenery. The rural population of 55 to 75 year olds will nearly double by 2020 compared to what it was in 2000.

The problem is that this move cannot be permanent. Researchers are saying this rural phase will probably last only about 15 years, according to The Oregonian. Once the majority of baby boomers are too old to enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle they will move back to an urban area to be close to amenities like health care, public transportation, as well as family members and long-term care facilities. This is assuming that nursing homes and assisted living facilities will be thriving and waiting for the boomers when they return.

This assumption is a false hope. According to The Associated Press, the recession has hit the nation’s nursing homes hard and funding continues to be cut. The boomers need to be aware of their own mortality and begin planning for it.

The condition of nursing homes in our region needs help, and these retirees should remember that it is them who will need these facilities before they go relocating and investing their money in a life of leisure. Gary Weeks is the executive director of the Washington Health Care Association. He told The Seattle Times that there is clearly a crisis going on in long-term care, and of the 400 assisted living and nursing homes in Washington, some have already laid off workers and some will surely not survive. U.S. Census figures show that in 2007 the nation’s 16,000 nursing homes housed 1.79 million and in 2008 that number rose to 1.85 million. As the largest generation approaches needing this type of care it should be very worrisome to them that this crisis is going on. Maybe the boomers should be a little more practical and a little less materialistic by investing in the future of nursing homes instead of temporary vacation homes.

As of today, boomers have more disposable income than the rest of us. They largely keep our local consumption-based economy going as well as it is now. If a significant number of them leave the city and the suburbs for places further out, it could potentially leave a hole in the urban economy that will bite all of us, including them, in the ass in the long run. And a wave of boomers coming back in 15 years without enough care facilities to house them is going to open a whole new can of worms. Maybe they can just stay here, invest in their future and save the rest of us this last baby boomer-induced headache.