Why Are So Many Boomers Dying of Despair?

Millions of boomers will not live longer than their parents.  In fact, in some communities the death rate of boomers in their fifties and their sixties rivals the death rate of the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s.

Angus Deaton, who co-authored a paper exploring the results of their study found that lower income and high school educated boomers death rates were rising. Deaton, who won the 2015 Nobel laureate in economic in 2015,  said, “Drugs and alcohol, and suicide . . . are clearly the proximate cause…Half a million people are dead who should not be dead,” he added. “About 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with HIV-AIDS.”

What makes this especially troubling is that while the overall death rate in the United States is going down, boomer men who lost jobs or are in the early stages of retirement seem to be the most vulnerable.  Since 2007 the suicide rate for people age 40 to 64 increased by 40%.  78% of the 41,000 suicides in the U.S. in 2013 were men.

What seems to be the source of this onslaught of despair?  While the more affluent boomers have successfully weathered the storm of the Great Recession since 2008, less educated boomers are still feeling its effects.

While we are experiencing a real estate boom in many of our major cities, 15% of American are still underwater, owing more money than their home is worth.

Even more troubling for boomers in all economic levels, is the growing realization that their children  are  worse off economically than they were at the same age.  Millennials, the children and grandchildren of boomers, are earning 20% less than the boomer generation did when the boomers were in their thirties. As millions of boomers look to the future, they are not finding a path that leads to opportunity and purpose.

J. D. Vance in his bestselling book, Hillbilly Elegy, chronicles his rise from poverty.  In the introduction he  says, “I want people to know what it feels like to nearly give up on yourself and why you might do it. I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it…And I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.” (Hillbilly Elegy, p. 2)

As churches and other groups look at the challenges that boomers face as they age, they must first come to realize that their attitudes, beliefs, and actions are primarily based on how they experienced life as they were growing up.  Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life,  focuses on four spiritual values that emerge from the events of the sixties and seventies, Brokenness, Loneliness, Rootlessness, and Self-Seeking.  These values still inform the lives of boomers. 

Before you begin to plan ministries and programs to connect with boomers, you first need to know their history.  Even though they are heading into retirement, the way they are facing the future is deeply affected by their past.

Join Craig Kennet Miller for a webinar on The Spiritual Roots of Boomers on Tuesday, January 31st at 7:00 PM Central (8:00 PM Eastern, 5:00 pm Pacific).

 

Boomer Webinars Start Today – Jan. 24th – 7:00 pm Central

“My generation is becoming invisible, especially in the church.”

This quote from a boomer gets our attention.  When boomers were young, churches tried their best to attract them to their churches.  Worship services were designed to meet their needs.  The mega-church movement was born and what we call contemporary Christian music became mainstreamed in congregational life. Boomers who were inspired by the Jesus’ Movement became pastors and leaders in the church. Others focused on the social gospel and looked for ways to transform their communities.  

But now that boomers are retiring, are they needed anymore? This is the question every church and ministry will need to face as they look to the future.  In the past people who were over sixty-five were considered to be past their prime.  Church programs were designed to entertained them or give them opportunities to get out of their homes.  But boomers are not their parents.  They do not like to be called “old” or “elderly.”  They will not be attracted to “older adult” programs. 

Today, what we call aging is being revolutionized by Boomers, the generation born from 1946 to 1964 (ages 53 to 71). Every facet of American life will be impacted by the explosive growth in the numbers of this group who is moving into their retirement years.  Those who are healthy at age sixty-five can expect to live another productive and active fifteen years till they reach their eighties.

Even our new president, whether you like him or not, is seventy-years-old.  His primary opponents, with Hillary at sixty-nine and Bernie at seventy-five, are great indications of the new way those over sixty-five are facing the issues of aging. They still want to make a difference.  They still want to contribute.

Rather than ignoring the boomers, churches have another chance to connect with them as they continue the search for God that defined them when they were young. Churches who pay attention to the boomers will reap great benefits, those who ignore them will lose out.

Craig Kennet Miller, the author of Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life, invites you to join him in a three-part series of webinars that starts on Tuesday, January 24, 2017 to explore three topics that will look at key aspects of the way boomers think and how the events of the past will affect all of our futures.

Who are the Boomers?
REGISTER FOR WHO ARE THE BOOMERS
DATE: Tuesday, January 24, 2017
TIME: 7pm Central
Born from 1946 to 1964, Boomers have revolutionized every aspect of American life.  As they move into their second half of life, learn about the challenges they face as they age.

The Spiritual Roots of Boomers
REGISTER FOR THE SPIRITUAL ROOTS OF BOOMERS
DATE: Tuesday, January 31, 2017
TIME: 7pm Central
Formed in the crucible of the 1960s and 70s, the spiritual roots of boomers still effect them today.

Boomers and the Search for God
REGISTER FOR THE SEARCH FOR GOD
DATE: Tuesday, February 7, 2017
TIME: 7pm Central
Since their youth, boomers have been on an ongoing search for the divine.  From the New Age Movement to the explosion of mega-churches the boomers quest for the spiritual life has challenged the traditions of the past and provides great opportunities for ministry in the future. 

Saturday Night Lives’ Mockery of Old Age is Heartless

In an ill-attempt at humor, this week’s SNL portrayal of a 106-year-old man and his care-giving nurse showed a complete ignorance of the dire circumstances millions of families face as they deal with the challenge of offering compassionate care to the growing number of the old, old – those over 85 years of age.

In the skit “Theater Donor,” Felicity Jones (star of Rouge One) plays the hapless nurse who serves as the caregiver of a wheelchair-bound wealthy centenarian who has funded a new production at the local theater.  As the play begins, he disrupts the actors as he complains that he can’t hear.  As the show continues, a series of interruptions ensues. A computerized voice from the wheelchair signals that its time for him to be fed.  So his nurse pulls out a large jar of a white substance that she smears on his face as he tries to keep her from getting it into his mouth.  A few moments later a computerized voice calls out that it’s time to “disinfect” as lights and smoke explode from the back of the chair. When the voice calls out that it’s time to change his medical stockings, the man puts up a fight as he maneuvers his electric wheelchair  off the stage.  After that, I turned off the show, wondering why the writers thought this was okay.

SNL, which likes to portray itself as the moral conscience of American culture, got it all wrong this time.  Perhaps they wanted to vent the frustrations of acting in front of a live audience and pulled up memories of some of the worst interruptions they had endured.  Whatever the reason, like most people who do not have the responsibilities of caring for people who can’t take care of themselves, they just don’t understand the issues of pain, discouragement, and frustration caregiving family members experience on a daily basis.

Millions of today’s boomers (those born from 1946 to 1964) are finding themselves cast into the role of caregivers as their parents live into their eighties, nineties, and hundreds.  Because of the increasingly high cost of retirement homes and rest homes, most people over the age of eighty-five  do not have the financial resources to live in this kind of housing.  Instead, their children are scrambling to figure out how to keep their jobs while taking care of mom or dad.

Even more concerning for boomers is the dawning realization and fear that if they make it past eighty-five  years of age, there will twice as many people in this age range, and there will be greatly diminished resources to provide for their needs. Today there are over 44 million unpaid eldercare providers in the United States. Most of them are women who are proving care for parents and in-laws.

As people move into their eighties, their level of care changes.  First, they need help as they stay in their own homes or apartments.  The caregiver’s main function is to monitor them by keeping track of their food, making sure they get to doctor’s appointments, and providing transportation when the keys to the car are taken away.

The next stage is when parents move in to live with their children. At first, this is an easier compromise because the caregiver no longer has to travel to the parent’s residence. But as the years go, the adult children’s lifestyle undergoes dramatic change, especially when their parent needs more supervision and care.

It’s at this stage that paid direct caregivers are hired to give ongoing support so the  son or daughter can return to work or have a break from the daily grind. Now we can begin to see the emerging crises in caregiving in its full force. By 2022, the number of direct-care workers will need to increase by 37 percent to more than  4.8 million workers, which is equal to the number of salespeople in retail and more than the 4.5 million who work as K-12 teachers. Because this type of care is one-to-one, the demands on the worker is high, while the pay is low. In short, as more people need one-to-one care, there are fewer qualified workers to fill the jobs.

When boomers begin reaching their eighties in 2026, the number of direct-care workers will need to dramatically increase to keep up with the demands of this growing population.  This just touches the iceberg of issues the American culture will face as its population undergoes dramatic population growth in the next twenty years.

So rather than making fun of those who need help and those who care for them, SNL and its fans need to find compassion for those caught in this emerging crisis faced by millions of American families. For someday, most of them will find themselves needing help or caring for someone they love.

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life. Join him for a series of webinars on boomers that start on Tuesday, January 24.