Boomer women revise expectations to meet economic reality

Posted Sept. 19, 2011, at 4:21 p.m.

Nan Crawford can foresee the future. And it’s not at all what she anticipated. Worse, it’s not what she was promised by the Greatest Generation.

Born right after the end of World War II, Nan is one of the older boomer women. The first generation, really, to demand equality and economic independence. The first to consider divorce — at one point 60 percent of all divorces after age 50 were initiated by these boomer women. The first to have birth control. The first to expect a retirement on their own terms.

Welcome to the “new economy.”

Boomer women are rarely singled out in unemployment data. Indeed, oldest in this generation — the women who expected to retire within the next five years — are rarely mentioned.

Nan has become a spokeswoman for them. Her story will air soon on “NBC Nightly News,” part of a series the network is doing on boomer women.

Here’s what the Fountain Valley, Calif., woman tells them.

Widowed in 2004, she inherited no retirement benefits. Her husband, a real estate broker, was working off savings in the market downturn. What she did have in a 401K was almost depleted by stock market reverses. “Yes, I was surprised,” she says. “Totally. But in my husband’s generation, men rarely shared information on retirement savings. I really didn’t know what it meant for two years. I was in a fog. Now I had to take care of me. I was raised to believe a husband takes care of you and the kids.”

She had always worked and was an executive administrative assistant responsible to two vice presidents, one for taxes and the other the treasurer of a large health care insurance firm. The company was sold and she lost her job, just short of the years needed to qualify for a pension.

She has careened from one company to another since then. Now she works part-time for Silverado Senior Living, happy to be in marketing. She hopes to work this into a full-time position.

Gone are the plans for retirement with travel. Nan borrows from her mother to keep going and knows she is fortunate to do that. She works hard to turn her home into a safe sanctuary, a place free from depression, but acknowledges some “anxiety attacks.”

Economic independence remains the legacy and the curse of boomer women, she tells NBC. Women who lose their jobs are finding it difficult to reconnect. Employers say it is short-sighted to invest in training, and benefits for older workers, especially health care, are greater.

There’s also a bit of gender-based ageism in play.

But boomer women have even more issues to deal with; concerns that give them a full plate of life-changes their mothers never anticipated.

They have their own relationship issues. Independence often creates marriage tensions. And then there is social networking. Many older women are turning to internet dating with mixed results.

A reported 65 percent of adult boomer children are coming home because of the recession.

Parents are living 20 years longer than expected, sandbagging boomers with responsibilities for financial and emotional support at the same time as their adult children seek support.

Their own life issues are often ignored. Too many women say they don’t take the time to review their financial future, even to plan for health and legal eventualities.

“The only thing that really keeps us going, I think, is a network of friends,” Nan says. Women are their own best support system, she adds.

Lynda Krall agrees, to a point.

The author and coach says boomer women need to get back in touch with themselves, need to learn to put themselves first.

“They have spent so much time taking care of other people, they forget it’s time to take care of ‘me,’” she says. “They wrestle with self-esteem and self-worth.”

Employers want creativity today, she says, claiming the talent is more important than integrity or global thinking. She’s the author the Wild Ideas Club and has designed a series of exercises to spark creativity.

“It’s OK to try something new — especially in a group supported by other women who participate,” she says. Krall will showcase some of these exercises at the Oct. 4 Re-Invent Yourself! Meeting sponsored by WomanSage.

Boomer women need to flourish and accept a future of constant change in all areas of their lives. Re-assembly is required.

“Hopefully, you can be enjoying yourself instead of worrying about what people think of you,” Krall says.

“The truth,” says Nan, “is that we expect to work for income for the rest of our lives. If we can find a job…”

Jane Glenn Haas is the founder of WomanSage. Contact her at jghaas@cox.net.

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