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The Boon of Boomers

Jul 15, 2014 09:00AM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Lisa Nolan

Baby Boomers, the generation that has been credited with changing the cultural landscape, is also shifting what growing older—and retiring— is all about. The baby boomers are considered to be the healthiest, best educated and most affluent generation ever. Their impact on society has been huge—and now, they are taking that influence with them as they move into their retirement years.

It’s clear that keeping baby boomers in Maryland is important. In fact, recent studies show that Maryland’s 1.4 million baby boomers represent 24 percent of the state’s population. In 2014, the oldest boomers will be turning 68 and the youngest will be 50. For everything from housing to healthcare to entertainment and beyond, the baby boomer generation represents a tremendous economic asset to the state.

So what is Maryland doing to keep them here? “Options, choices, and opportunities for living and aging well in our communities and the State of Maryland are what it’s all about,” says Maureen Cavaiola, Chair of Maryland’s Baby Boomer Initiative Council. The Council was initially established 2007 to focus on building public-private partnerships geared towards developing a statewide strategic plan for Maryland’s baby boomer population.

“We are looking at creating strategies not only to meet the needs of boomers, but also to capitalize on the group’s talents, skills, and energy to benefit the state’s economic and civic development,” Cavaiola notes.

One of their key areas of focus is workforce development efforts that allow workers to continue to contribute. “Over the next five years, half of Maryland’s workforce will be eligible to retire, creating a significant ‘brain drain,’” Cavaiola says. “We need to look at options to keep those people engaged and productive.”

Ideas include allowing older people who no longer can—or want—to be employed full-time to work at their own pace by, for example, offering part-time or teleworking opportunities. Other possibilities include mentorship programs, in which individuals are involved in training the next generation of workers. “It takes looking at things differently so you keep retirees here and interested,” Cavaiola says. Bottom line: enabling baby boomers to remain active in the workforce can benefit both employers and older employees.

Civic engagement is another key area of interest for the Council and represents a significant economic driver for the state. A 2010 report released by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that 29.4 percent of Marylanders volunteer each year, totaling nearly 200 million hours of service, with a value of $4.2 billion to local citizens and communities. “When you are talking about baby boomers, we have all of this education and ambition—it’s essential to who we are,” Cavaiola says. “We may not want to focus on our career anymore, but we still want to contribute to things that are important to us. Those activities can be full-time jobs, even though they are not paid.”

Livable communities are also part of the Council’s focus. The American Association of Retired People (AARP) describes a livable community as having affordable and appropriate housing, supportive community features and services, and adequate transportation options. They combine personal independence with the ability for residents to maintain a strong civic and social life. “With baby boomers, we are often looking at people who can retire anywhere, so in Maryland, we need to look at housing, transportation, and infrastructure because as people age, those things will be critically important for them to be able to stay.” Ideas include modifying housing and rental laws that reflect boomers’ desire to stay in their own homes but perhaps rent to others and transportation options that enable older people to continue to get around easily and economically.

The Council is also looking at health as a major factor in baby boomers’ ability to continue working or being involved in civic activities. “It’s in the State’s best interest to encourage boomers to maintain healthy lifestyles,” Cavaiola says, who sites her own choices of going to the gym and eating right as an important part of her desire to remain healthy and independent. Medical care, at-home care, and healthcare facilities as well as other services that people will need as they retire are all critically important to keeping older residents in the state. “The healthcare aspect of retirement is huge for baby boomers.”

While the council is focused on improvements in these key areas, “When it comes to retiring and staying in Maryland, it really comes down to the quality of life factors that brought you here in the first place,” Cavaiola says. “Still, wouldn’t it be wonderful for Maryland to be a national leader in creating opportunities for boomers? What if younger people saw lifelong options for baby boomers and knew those options would be here for them when they retire? That would be great for the state and for Maryland’s baby boomers.”