Older Workers Employment


Older workers have a lot to contend with. They must keep their skills up to date, adapt to younger bosses, and brood over assignments that offer lower salaries or benefits. Until recently, staying put, as in geographically put, was a compensating factor for these workplace disparities. Although jobs might be changing, the place-of-work was not. There was a pleasant ring to the familiar routine of getting up, and doing the daily commute to the same old place.

It’s just beginning, but older workers can no longer count on that regularity.  Jobs are moving, and so are the organizations that provide them.  And, this is important since nearly half of Boomers still working still working say they don’t expect to retire until they are age 66 or older. Boomers constitute about 31% of the workforce (Gallup, 2014).


The trend is for high-profile companies to relocate their headquarters from the suburbs into cities. Established companies where Baby Boomers have labored, firms like Expedia, Motorola Mobility and Archer Daniels Midland, are among those relocating to urban cores.

Older workers, the aging Baby Boomers, will need to decide whether to move with these firms, or simply call-it-quits. And, these corporate moves will impact them, even if they choose to retire. Vast tracts of suburbia are being vacated and that is precipitating a glut of suburban office space. Some ideas have been put forth to repurpose the space….concepts like senior centers or health clinics. Neither usage encourages the dynamic, growing, multi-generational age spectrum that defined the suburbs until now.  Boomers, who have settled in the suburbs, and continue to stay there, will face a rapidly changing local environment (Chapter Seven, Aging in Suburbia).  One of the reasons is that the tax base … the one that supported the quality public schools, the good public library, and other civic amenities declines as big businesses move out. And, it was the jobs, and then the civic amenities, that attracted people to live in the suburbs in the first place.

It is ironic, since companies in the late 1960’s and 70’s fled the big cities, like New York and Chicago to settle in the suburbs. According to Ed McMahon at the Urban Land Institute, cited by the Wall St. Journal,  “In those days, the determining factor was where the CEO of the company wanted to live.”


Today, as we have noted in earlier blogs, companies are relocating back to urban areas. These companies want to attract younger, skilled workers and also keep these workers happy.  “Kids” who work ten to 12 hour days at their desk don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere.  Another reason may be that hiking, fitness centers, and community interaction count for a lot to younger people. A third reason, less often mentioned, is that all workers are waking up to the transportation impacts of suburbia. Spending 45 minutes or more to commute in each direction, nearly 90 minutes a day in the car as a solo driver, is not a good use of time and cars are energy intensive. On top of it, traffic congestion brings it own rants. Urban commuters seem to be arriving at work with less stress, and have gained some advantage by tackling their morning emails as they ride, undisturbed, in an Uber vehicle or on public transportation.

In the long run, moving with the company might be a good thing for aging workers and Baby Boomers. They may find, just like a younger generation, that renting (or downsizing) in an urban area brings certain benefits over homeownership. They may come to appreciate the better access to walkable neighborhoods with restaurants, shopping, and cultural activities.

Giving up a car or two might change their daily habits, and reposition them for a healthier, more engaged retirement. In the short run, this move for Boomers will be about keeping their jobs and continuing to keep a toe-hold in the workplace. But, with less dependence on driving and a refocus of other activities, there may be long-term benefits.  Moving with their jobs towards the city, could be a win-win, and keep Boomers engaged and in the workforce for some time to come.


Boomers, Aging, Parking


The best friend of aging Baby Boomers may be parking, as in foregone parking. Younger generations have already made this discovery and are forging lifestyles with less park and drive.

Parking is not something that people ages 51 to 69 (the Baby Boomers) pay much attention to. They might give it a minute of thought if their windshield is ticketed for an expired meter or extended stay. Surprisingly, parking has the potential to make the Boomers’ retirement more affordable, active, and healthy.  While financial planners are busy selling Boomers on retirement annuities, parking reductions should be promoted by city planners, builders, and automotive engineers. There are two reasons.

The first reason is fairly straightforward. The Boomers are fast approaching an age when they will need to slow down, and that includes their vehicle usage. When they become less able to drive well, vehicle automation can keep them on the road- longer and safer. Today, well-equipped cars, from Toyotas to Fords, can self-park. While that option might seem frivolous to many Boomers, self-parking is an engineering milestone.  In 2015 vehicle automation can detect a parking space but in the near future it will help (aging) drivers sense and avoid collisions.

Meanwhile, as Baby Boomers become empty nesters and evaluate whether to downsize, it is homes, not parking, that are at the top of their list. Books like Aging in Suburbia are starting a conversation about alternatives. Should Boomers buy into an age 55+ community, seek a townhome closer to the kids, or sell entirely and travel?  With 75 million Boomers on the verge of retirement, this demographic tsunami is not going undetected. The real estate industry is examining how to sell relocation to a healthy, but aging cohort.

Real estate developers who follow the conventional playbook anticipate that Boomers will choose smaller properties laden with jazzy upscale features like a stainless steel kitchen and hardwood floors. The Institute of Homebuilders assumes a two or three car garage is needed, and if outdoors, a ‘sufficient’ ratio of units to paring spaces.  Therein is the crux of change. The new buzz is about parking and in this case, the absence of it.

In the past, developers of 55+ communities, town homes on the fringe of urban areas, and most high-rise buildings were required by municipal codes to apply a parking formula. The formula locked them into a minimum of two parking spaces per residential unit built. When a new building was near transit or rail, the parking requirements were relaxed, but slightly.

Today, as planners and developers envision purpose-built communities for aging Boomers, traditional parking requirements are coming under scrutiny. Zoning boards and developers are beginning to reexamine the maximum and minimum space rules. As they do so, Boomers can plan for a retirement that will be more affordable, active, and healthy.  It promises to keep the essential, and overlooked issues of mobility and transportation in the forefront of retirement planning.

Let’s examine the first claim that retirement can be made more affordable. Affordability is important, since an estimated 34 percent of Americans age 50 plus use credit cards to pay basic living expenses because they do not have enough savings (AARP, 2013). More than fifty percent still have mortgages to pay off. There is financial hope.  When people retire, or at least one family member gives up the daily commute, a two-car household can downsize. That’s an economic windfall, since the annualized cost of keeping a mid-size vehicle on the road is nearly $9,000 (AAA, 2014). Downsizing the fleet also brings a financial windfall for developers. It is estimated that parking represents about ten percent of typical building costs, often more (VTPI, 2013).

These savings are a bonanza. Some developers will pass on the lower building cost so units can be more affordable. Others may work with architects and designers to produce more age-friendly amenities, such as indoor-outdoor pools, gardening plots, or an annex for take-out food and restaurant demos. There are entirely new options to be discovered when builders do not have to plow their construction dollars into acquiring extra land and then pave it over for cars. The savings, and hence possibilities, are even more extreme when builders do not have to dig costly underground parking facilities.

Boomers choosing to buy or rent in new age-friendly communities may like the neighbors or the clubhouse but they will not be an easy sell unless a minimum standard is met for location and accessibility. Herein is the ground truth for the second axiom about aging well. When planner and builders rebalance the requirements for parking against other types of mobility, the outcome leads to a healthier, more active lifestyle.

When Boomers relocate they will need to equate ‘location’ with ‘lifestyle’, and that will require viewing with fresh eyes. With just one car or perhaps none, will the new place be near enough to a doctor’s office or medical facility?  Can they walk to a grocery or convenience store, and are they within a quarter-mile of public transit or car share? Are there sidewalks, open spaces, and recreational facilities?  Equally important may be proximity to a school or university, so that Boomers can continue their life-long learning and interaction with other age groups.

The benefits do not end there. For Baby Boomers, going light on the car comes heavy with health benefits. As we have pointed out in earlier blogs, aging cohorts in other countries drive less and walk or cycle more. In the process, they get helpful exercise.   Germany provides a good comparison, since it has both an aging population and an economy centered on car production. Despite a high rate of vehicle ownership, nearly thirty percent of Germans age 65 and older walk at least 30 minutes a day and this rate is five times higher than that in the U.S.; the cycling rate, at seven percent, is 13 times greater.  The health savings accrue for in Germany only 12 percent of the population (all ages) is obese.

The benefits for the aging Boomer population are cumulative: First hand discovery of a less car-centric lifestyle will prepare Boomers, both emotionally and physically, for getting older. It keeps them ahead of the curve and trains them to take the necessary steps now to remain independent and to live alone when they cannot, or should not, renew their driver’s license. The real bonus is that they will stave off the day when this is necessary, since there are health benefits from exercising more and replacing car trips with shorter ones on foot.  Downsizing their living space is important for Boomers, but downsizing their parking brings different issues into play and is of equal importance. For Boomers, it is about hitting the reset button, and rethinking if a troll to park…could become a stroll.

Aging in Suburbia-Anew

densityBaby Boomers who want to Age in Suburbia might find a new way to do so:  they will be able to cut back on their driving, but still be near the center of their favorite neighborhood and stores. The new paradigm is called suburban density. Builders of shopping centers, office parks and malls are learning to blend. Their new building sites will co-mingle apartments (or condos), office buildings, and retail centers.  The design is borrowed from the cities, but customized for open spaces.  One of the key design elements is to circle these new dense suburban centers with better connections for pedestrians and bicyclists.

An example of “suburban density” comes from a development underway in a suburb of Indianapolis, called Keystone.  According to the Wall St. Journal, the developer plans a 198 unit luxury apartment building, next to an existing shopping center. Across the street is an (existing) upscale mall. The three properties will be connected by wider sidewalks, and with an intention to add a one-mile long trail that will loop around an adjacent lake.

It is not that suburban density has not been tried before- but it seemed to begin with the car at its center. So, the linkages between buildings depended upon driving from place to place, even if they were just ¼ of a mile, or less distance apart.  Older suburbs like Silver Spring, Maryland and Stamford, Connecticut come to mind. Zoning played a big role in the transportation problems- if the office building was isolated from home, and home was isolated from the shops, then there was not much reason to walk. It was easier to get in the car and drive….even if the destination was across the street.  In the newer paradigm, the priority is supposed to favor pedestrians and non-motorized transportation.

So, putting an apartment building in the center and densifying the suburbs is both an old, and new, concept.  It cannot come too soon for traditional suburbs, which are seeing the erosion of their commercial base and failing shopping malls. It is  estimated that that 20 enclosed malls have been shuttered over the last few years and there are another 60 on the endangered list.  A book called Retail Revolution: Will your Brick and Mortar Store Survive? posits that e-commerce is taking its bite and expenditures by middle-income shoppers are declining.

What may be overlooked in the declining sales numbers is that many of the middle-income shoppers are also Baby Boomers. Boomers are buying more online, contributing to e-commerce growth. At the same time, they are cutting back overall expenditures, because their families are grown and they have fewer, pressing purchases to make. Meanwhile, they need to save for retirement.

The retail community can hope that if the Boomers choose to move into these new style suburban apartments two trends will co-occur: First, Boomers will spend more of their leisure time, making purchases in the stores, restaurants, and entertainment centers. Also, some of the Boomers might hang on to jobs, and extend their working years by relocating near the office-park.  It all remains to be seen, but a denser suburbia is a glimmer of change that might not attract traffic (too much). It could advance a new place for Aging in Suburbia.