Saturday, February 18, 2012

Qualitative Manifesto - Principle #2b: Give More of Your Talents

The most highly educated, highly skilled generation in history is marching toward retirement at the rate of more than 10,000 a day. More than 3.6 million Baby Boomers will turn 65 this year and every year for the next 17 years until the last Baby Boomer reaches the conventional retirement age in 2029.

While many reaching the age of 65 today are simply unable to retire, millions are still opting for a life of leisure – even if that life of leisure comes at a much steeper price. However, a retiring Boomer at 65 is unlikely to be satisfied sitting around the pool or playing golf everyday. They’re an ambitious crowd and the creators of the 80-hour, two-parent workweek. From a resource standpoint, there is a mountain of talent that is marching toward free agency every day many of which are willing and able to play for a new team.

And while the headlines focus on the burden that this generation will place on a host of public and privately-funded services for the foreseeable future, what’s often missing in the discussion is the incredible opportunity to leverage both the volume and considerable talents of the largest generation in American history to help lessen the burden on other public and privately-funded services as well as local municipalities in their retirement years.

Certainly, the close to $60 trillion in unfunded liabilities at the Federal level in the form of Medicare, Social Security and the federal debt towers over the more than $6 trillion in future obligations for state and local municipalities across the country. But at risk are the current jobs and future retirement pensions of tens of millions of Americans whose state and local governments teeter on the brink of bankruptcy.

It’s difficult to imagine how the talents of a successful retired nurse, or electrician, or artist can help the federal government. But without question those talents can be put to good use in the thousands of local municipalities across the United States that have – just like the airlines and automakers – cut overly generous union deals that they cannot possibly fund in perpetuity. Already we’ve seen severe reductions in local services in schools, fire and police departments, and other public services. The economics simply no longer work.

But we have choices: (a) Reduce local services; (b) File bankruptcy and reduce pensions of existing retirees; (c) Raise taxes and continue on a dangerous spending trajectory; or (d) Find new ways to help reduce the burden our local governments. If we don't want to reduce local services, and we don't want to reduce the pensions of retired workers, and we don't want to raise taxes then we have to change our collective behaviors and creatively contribute in new ways.

We most often think about volunteering in manual terms – showing up to hand out water at a charity road race, at a hospital to help patients navigate in wheelchairs, at a church to help cook and serve up soup kitchen meals. While all of these actions are important and necessary, we now have an opportunity to leverage the talents of millions of retirees who can volunteer their considerable skills in wholly new ways – as professionals to help reduce the burden of outsourcing expensive professional and trade services in cities and towns across America.

Consider the many millions of premium volunteer hours and taxpayer dollars that could both fill the void and reduce financial stress on local governments as the largest generation in American history if we step up as we transition toward our senior years as:

·      Nurses, physicians and dentists at the local free clinic
·      Music, art, science, finance and communication teachers at the local grade and high school
·      Legal consultants at the local municipality
·      Accounting consultants at the local municipality
·      Investment consultants at the local municipality
·      Management consultants at the local municipality
·      Contractors, plumbers, electricians, carpenters and masons

Each community has in it a vast hidden resource just waiting to be tapped. But until and unless we shift our entitlement mindsets and take responsibility, ownership and pride in our own communities, we will maintain our unrealistic expectations, and lament about the good times “back in the day.” It’s an economic fact that local and federal governments mostly expanded throughout the 20th century to serve an ever-expanding population. But those days are over.

What we are experiencing now is the natural cycle of growth – from birth to expansion to peak to contraction. The problem is that many of us remember all too well the days of expansion when local governments poured forth services and benefits from free garbage collection to the rapid removal of snow from our sidewalks.

A century ago the local police or fire department was not at out doorstep in four minutes and we didn’t complain and blame local government when our house burned down because the fire department didn’t get there in time. We didn’t castigate the town or city because snow removal did not meet our considerable standards. We have to adjust our expectations because our world is no longer expanding. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Part of the process to adjusting to our contracting world is stepping up rather than just speaking up.

There is no shortage of people in our world who are extraordinarily proficient at pointing out a problem, but scarce few who are actually willing to get off the couch and do something about it. Which flavor are you?