Older Workers Please Apply

olderworkerThe older worker who greets you at the Big Box store is a staple of suburbia. But now, these same workers may be welcoming you at edgy stores in cities.

Blame it on real-estate. But, if you are an aging senior who wants a job, it is good news.

Zillow has calculated the high cost of rentals. In major cities and tech hubs, renters pay about half of their income to housing, and 40 percent in New York City. Most of these renters are young people, the Millennials who stay in “hipster communities,” rather than move to suburbia.


This urban trend is good news for “retirees” who want or need to stay in the labor market.

It might also explain when you shop or dine in these big cities, why you are served by a kindly, but aging Boomer. If you are having difficulty picturing this, a popular new movie, “Ricki and the Flash” depicts Ricki (aka Meryl Streep) doing a day job at “Total Foods” amidst the hipper Millennials.

Older people are more likely to own or live in rent-controlled apartments in these high-demand areas.  These neighborhoods, like North Beach and Cow Hollow in San Francisco, Chelsea in New York, or Silver Lake, in LA are places where rents command 40% of the paycheck or more.  Older people, who settled here years ago reap the benefit as the neighborhood regenerates. These upscale places are meccas for establishing new restaurants, drycleaners, pet stores, and the like.


The difficulty for business owners is adequate staffing. Millennials may want to work in these great communities, but if the pay is at or just above the minimum wage, they cannot cover the bills. So, they may look farther afield for jobs.  The price of living in these trendy neighborhoods, is often commuting downtown, or even to the suburbs, to better paying, tech jobs.

“Retirees”, on the other hand, have a natural advantage. When the call goes out to staff these restaurants and shops, they may be first in line. They know the neighborhood well and can probably travel to work in a few minutes. Most importantly, they are more likely to get by, on part-time work or casual employment. And, high paying tech jobs, requiring new skills, are not within their reach. Fewer hours, but a job close to where they live, may be a good match as they try to keep busy in retirement, and supplement their social security or (missing) pension. The added bonus is that these jobs are situated in lively places filled with creative people. And, the employers are happy to have older workers because of their work ethic and stability.


It will be interesting when the next Census counts the number of older workers- it has been on an upswing since 2008 for both men and women age 65 and older. If older people are fortunate enough to live near a booming city or tech area, they may have  ample jobs for sometime to come. Older workers both fill the void left by young workers in search of higher wages, and they may find it engaging and fun to work in these hipster-friendly communities.


Aging in Suburbia, The Bogey



Aging in Suburbia, the book, is not about bogeys, bail outs, and backswings. But, there are lessons from the game of golf that are important for Baby Boomers whether or not they play the game.

Golfers use an expression called “reading the green” to determine which way a putt will curve on a slope. We “read the green” to suggest how generational  preferences are changing.


The Boomers moved far-afield and did not settle into their parents’ homes. The Boomers should not expect the next generation, their kids, to embrace their big suburban homes or share their same enthusiasm for drive-alone cars  

The notion that big suburban homes could be, ahum, homely, is a difficult and challenging concept for Boomers. So, in this blog we take a detour and examine a metaphor from the golf-course …….. When a Millennial thinks about the game of golf, they have issues, for example, an energy intensive use of natural resources, a time-sink for limited leisure hours, and the expense of getting on the greens.  Millennials often ponder similar issues when it comes to buying homes in the suburbs.


Boomers and older cohorts helped grow this sport and many courses were marketed with luxury real-estate development. But, for the last eight years there are more golf courses closing than opening. In 2013 157.5 courses were shuttered (many of these are ones without memberships). In addition, there is a trend to play just nine holes (hence the 157.5 course listed above) and avid golfers, aka Jack Nicklaus, have been advocates for 12-hole course that takes less time to play.

Young people are shunning the sport, according to Forbes writer Bob CookOne statistic is that 200,000 players ages 35 and younger “abandoned the game” over the past year. Millennials don’t want to spend their time organizing an outing that will require driving up- to- meet, spending half-a-day or more walking around, and sitting around the clubhouse thereafter. Boomers recognize that golf, like their older homes, requires some planning and organization. And, even the beloved golf hero of all age groups, Tiger Woods, has managed to fall off the charts.

Not helping things in this economy is the cachet that golf is for the monied-class. Certainly green-fees are expensive and even on public courses, an afternoon of golf might cost the same as two full tanks of gasoline. The Millennials are questioning whether golf is how they want to spend their precious, and limited, leisure dollar. There are many competing priorities, just like in the real-estate market.


Perhaps the greatest similarity between golf and the suburban homestead is that they are both… suburban. Golf courses recreate an oasis of greenery whether they are situated in Dubai or Myrtle Beach. That oasis is man-made, and thirsty for maintenance and water. According to a 2008 story on NPR, the average golf course uses 312,000 gallons of water per day. A desert course averages a million gallons of water daily, as much as an American family uses over four years. Many golf courses are planting less thirsty grass and using recycled water. Yet, they are emblematic of resource wasting, not unlike the suburban homes dubbed “energy hogs (see Chapter Four, Aging in Suburbia).

So, when a Millennial thinks about the game of golf, they may perceive the costs and benefits differently than a Baby Boomers. They may see the intensive use of natural resources, the draw on their limited leisure time, and the need to organize it all in advance. These are some of the same issues that Millennials ponder when it comes to buying homes in the suburbs. How much energy (i.e. gas) does it take to reach their destination, do they want to spend their precious time on house repairs, and the lawn, and how much will it all cost?

Golf is not going away….Boomers will be playing for some time to come and many will choose to retire near a golf-centered community. There will be high-tech ideas that will inspire some Millennials to rejoin the sport. And, Nicklaus’s idea for the 12 hole course make take hold. But, at the end of the day, golf may fade in sheer popularity as the Boomers get older, and tastes change. For Baby Boomers, now is an occasion to “read the greens” and consider options.

The Price of Aging in Suburbia


As Boomers retire, they will need to add transportation costs to the price of aging in suburbia. Many plan to rebalance their expenses and cut back on shopping, vacations, and credit card debt. They look forward to a time when they no longer have a car payment. But, have they thought through the full costs of transportation as they age? Most often, transportation costs are not in the forefront of retirement planning.

There is an irony here, since the cost of transportation was probably a major consideration when they purchased the home they live in today. Transport is a source of financial stress when people live far from activities or have long commutes. In the outer suburbs, the cost of housing is less, but commuters “pay” for it with their time, and, of course, gas station fill-ups, and vehicle wear and tear. The Center for Neighborhood Technology in Washington, D.C. has as an  makes Housing plus Transportation (H+ T) costs explicit with their online calculator.

H+T (is not HOT). IT IS SUBTLE 

For Baby Boomers on the verge of retirement, the H+ T equation is subtle. If people age-in-place, what will be the true financial cost of transportation? It will vary, of course, on how much they need to travel, how often, and what type of vehicle will keep them secure.

At face value, the transportation costs are vehicle expenses. The AAA estimates a monthly cost of about $725.00 for a sedan driven 15,000 miles annually but the Bureau of Labor Statistics (see graph above) estimates less.   Fuel costs have been keeping that figure low but insurance, registration fees, depreciation, and maintenance have been increasing. For the average Boomer household in suburbia with 2 vehicles the annual cost would be around $10,000, assuming each car is driven under 15,000 miles. If they have a third vehicle (not uncommon), say a spare car or camper, annual cost rises an additional $3,000 to $4,000 (assuming the third vehicle is driven less). As Boomers age, their insurance premiums will inch up. Although they will drive shorter distances, they pose a somewhat higher risk (but far below the risk of a novice 16 or 18 year old driver).

Transportation costs continue: As people get older but choose to age-in-place, they may also depend more on taxis or share-car services, like Uber. Getting home at night, when it is difficult to drive in the dark, getting to and from the airport, or going to certain doctor’s appointments, are cases where a third party, like Uber, serves a growing market.


Holding on to the household fleet, and supplementing it with Uber, is a viable solution- as long as Boomers remain in good health and can drive safely. But, financially, the multi-car household is still an expensive solution. At some point, the Boomers will start downsizing their fleet. They may also find that they can help out their neighbors (if they know them) by offering a ride here and there, and taking scenic day trips on trains or buses, instead of driving solo.


But Boomers will need, and want, newer cars. Automotive technology is changing. New vehicles, and ones still to reach the market, have been dubbedsmartphones on wheels.” A smartphone on wheels” has electronics that tie together, mirrors, cameras, and sensors.   They are more comfortable to sit in, and provide better seating and visibility. Most of all, these electronic vehicles help drivers of all ages avoid collisions.

The Boomers were the first generation, largely because of women’s participation in the workforce and suburban development, to require two or three car households. There were personal benefits to this “cartopia. Now, as the Baby Boomers wind down their careers there will be reasons to scale-back. That is, unless they choose to live in a larger camper and move it from place to place. But, the main reason is that retirement needs to be affordable, and keeping an extra car has extra cost. But, almost all Boomers will need newer cars, cars that are better suited to their aging years. That can only add new loans, or leases, and add transportation costs to the price of aging in suburbia.