Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City

A recent BBC article on “America’s original active retirement community” got me thinking. As many long-time readers know, the FAR in FAR Manor means Forget About Retirement — but I try not to. Hey, I might get lucky after all. Besides, I’m on vacation, the original mini-retirement.

What jumped out at me were two quotes near the middle of the article. In the first, one resident said that retirement previously involved (among other things) “waiting to die.” The developer heard many variants of “I raised my own children, and I don’t want to have to raise my grandchildren.” To me, the first seems myopic, the second outright selfish.

Next week, I’ll be going to Florida, which seems these days to be one humonguous retirement community (active or otherwise) overlaying a normal economy, which in turn overlays a tourist economy. The desire to move somewhere that’s warm all the time, or at least cold very rarely, is certainly understandable… although there’s a long brutal summer to contend with as well. Too cold sometimes or too hot sometimes, pick one.

So why would retiring in the community where you worked, with or without family nearby, be “waiting to die”? After all, you already know where the good restaurants are, which fishing spots are best at any given time, which golf courses offer reduced greens fees on weekday mornings, where the good walking/biking/hiking trails are. Unless your friends have all moved away, you know where they are and when they’re available. Unless you live in some backwater hole in the hills, and even on Planet Georgia there are great hiking and mountain bike trails just a few miles from the manor, there should be plenty of recreational opportunities for an “active retirement.” Why go somewhere that you have to figure all this stuff out all over again, when you can enjoy it right where you are?

Then there’s the other side of the coin. I for one mostly enjoy helping to raise Mason, even when I have to work for a living. He’s off with Snippet for an overnight at her mom’s, and even with him waking up twice a night (teething) I’m going to miss him. I’ll really miss him next week when I’m gone. I can understand long-standing friction with your (nominally) adult children — The Boy really gets on my nerves sometimes — or the resentment at their presumption that they can just dump their own kids on you while they work or have fun, but I can’t understand not wanting to be a part of your grandkids’ formative years. You don’t punish the kids for the sins of the parents, after all. Besides, with multi-generational households becoming a trend once again, you should be able to expect the kids to support you as well: you take the grandkids fishing or bike riding while they’re working, they come in and you pop out to the golf course. Sounds like one way to have the best of both worlds, anyway.

12 comments:

  1. Far ~ well said!

    So many of the 'arrangements' that we've institutionalized in the last umpteen decades of prosperity here in the United Parking Lot of America seem to fit nicely under the heading of “warehousing”. The essence of this is making one's life simpler/quieter by shipping some of the family members [usually the younger or the older] off to someplace else for someone else to take care of, at profit to that last party of course. The rationale is often as basic as “I don't want them in my hair” etc.

    It seems highly likely that intergenerational relations have suffered a great deal because of this .. but I'll never know the extent of it, since my parents were well into the nukular-fambly thing by the time the 1950s/1960s rolled around. And when you don't get to learn much from your own grandparents, well, suffice it to say that there's a great deal that gets lost.

    The whole notion of retirement got messed with during the UPL's time of peak affluence anyway. So you're supposed to slave away at a job that puts you to sleep, bail at 65 with millions in your 401(k), then spend the rest of your life doing little but taking cruise vacations, playing shuffleboard, getting knee replacements on Medicare, and buying a new vehicle every couple years? B-o-r-i-n-g. Sounds like just another kind of warehousing to me.

    Far, I'm glad you're making things work out the way you do. Wish more were doing that .. the world would be a better place I think. One can only hope.

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  2. I shied away from the word "warehousing," even if it does fit. Funny how it works — the retirees either move away or get dumped in a home. Maybe that's why many opt to move away?

    As far as the changes, I wonder if they were brought on as much by improved life expectancy as anything else… before WW2, workers were about equally likely to leave their jobs by death or retirement, and few retirees lived more than a few years after. Perhaps that was the genesis of the "waiting to die" crack — still myopic, or at least backward-looking, because by 1960 that wasn't the case anymore.

    I can understand the attraction of "the playground," but you're right — that's as much a warehouse as a nursing home. (The difference being, one warehouse has people running around in it and the other has them laying around.) Bear Bryant famously checked out very quickly after retiring from coaching, and a lot of us figured he just didn't want to live without having something useful to do. Sure, I'd like to spend some time on the playground, but I'd also like to do some useful stuff on the side, even if it's only useful to me… as long as I'm not mired in it like I am now. ;-)

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  3. I may be mistaken in this but it seems to me that this whole two generation(parents/children)only household thing is pretty darned new in the grand scope of human history. Wasn't just a century or so ago that young couples often lived with one or the other set of parents and when/if they got their own place it was about 100 feet away?

    Haven't cultures all over the world been organized on variations of the principle where the old come in from the fields to care for or oversee the little children while the younger and stronger adults go out and put in the toil until they to are old?

    Somewhere along the way our culture got this notion in our heads that being parents ceases when the last of our own personal offspring turn 18. We've lost somewhere the notion of becoming elders of a COMMUNITY. Parents not just to our own offspring but to our community.

    I heard a variation on the "I don't want to raise my grandkids" theme today on the radio. A gubernatorial candidate here in Texas wants to do away with property taxes in favor of a state wide sales tax. She was visiting an 'active adult community' near by and one of the gentlemen that lived there said he was in favor of doing away with the property tax because he shouldn't have to pay school taxes because no one in that neighborhood has kids. Just total me me me self centeredness. I wanted to reach through the radio and throttle the guy. He doesn't get that the kids about to graduate my soon be the paramedics that come pick his sorry ass off the bathroom floor when he falls and breaks his hip. I think perhaps he might like that person to be able to read.

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  4. Wooly, you're right about the "nukular fambly" (as Nudge likes to call it) being a recent development. But we haven't lost the notion of becoming elders of a community, we seem to have lost the notion of community altogether. IMO, anyway.

    That's a great point about the kids in school today being the paramedics of tomorrow. Not to mention the cable guys, the plumbers, electricians, etc… it's like expecting public services to function but not wanting to pay the taxes necessary to fund them. I think "disconnect" is too mild a term there.

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  5. Hi Far & Wollysheep .. nice thread :)

    Was going to comment about one of my uncles, a math professor who's finally been forced to retire at age 81. For many years he was the chair of the mathematics department at a well-known school in the midwest. Like the people alluded to upthread, he too likes to stay busy, so even now he's working on what he called some interesting theoretical stuff that he won't explain to anyone else in the family because we wouldn't get it.

    I hope to stay busy too, somehow .. life is just too good to waste on things that are of no use, if that's not too weird a way to put it.

    Wollysheep, that radio interview (the gubernatorial candidate recalling a comment by some gentleman at an active adult community) would have had me screeching out loud. Since when do we get to opt-out of participation in society? Even if the man in question has no children in HS and neither does anyone on his street, this does not give them the right to selectively remove some of the supports from society.

    Even for the most marginal of us (OK, this is just a guess, but I'm thinking homeless people living in the woods, getting sustenance by picking through trash and burning whatever they can find to stay warm) still depend on the functioning of a much larger society so that they may survive. Nobody's Daniel-Booning it here anymore ~ and the notion of the frontier not having community spirit is nonsense.

    That gentleman in the active adult community? He probably gets around by automobile, which is as refined and specialized a product as ever existed, and which depends on a vast, functioning network of fuel stations, road construction and maintenance, traffic control, law enforcement, etc, just to make good enough to use. He also depends on the food industry, from farmers thousands of miles away to the local teenagers stocking the shelves at the grocery store. He depends on the post office delivering his monthly benefits, the kids mowing the lawns at their community, the streets being cared for, his automobile being repaired, and more. He depends on a vast network of healthcare providers and all that went into educating them. Ditto for whatever pharmaceuticals he needs. In a historical sense, he also depends on there being state and federal and local governments to help care for society. It's entirely conceivable that some of the people participating in any of the above capacities may have attended, or will someday attend, that same high school which he does not want to fund.

    If someone wishes to give that gentleman an object lesson in the level of support coverage funded by his taxes, all they need do is drop him off in Haiti at the present time.

    Sorry to rant .. but this cheesed me off.

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  6. Interesting post, Far. Heh, I never knew the true meaning of "Far". I just remarked a couple of days ago with a coworker about the coming trend of multi-generational housing. Our children will never leave. With the disappearing middle class, the "American dream" of a free-standing single family house will likely be out of the reach of many, if not most.

    I've been preparing for eventual retirment (I'm only about a year or so older than you, Far.) with the push to keep painting. I don't see myself playing golf or shuffleboard but doing something I enjoy that will still make some money. (Hopefully)

    I believe that my government pension makes me far luckier than the average individual, but such things will become increasingly rare. Most people will likely have to work far into their golden years, making moot the whole idea of retirement.

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  7. No problem, Nudge, I think it cheeses off a lot of people. It's like the people who move somewhere and want to prevent anyone else from "spoiling it."

    Boran, consider the possibility that continued economic woes will depress revenues to the point where the pension gets squeezed… I think we're all in this together whether we have a gov't pension or 401K. They get invested in the same places…

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  8. Far, you've got it ~ pension funds, 401k's, municipal funds, rainy-day funds, etc all invested in the same toxic assets that the rest of the economy did. At the time, those assets were promising Madoff-like returns, which, as we know, should have set off a lot of warning bells. (I mean, seriously ~ giving your money to a total stranger and getting back 130% of it within a year or two means only a few things, and they're all like “investing in drug production” or “lending money to the mafia”. Normal, invest-in-manufacturing type investments don't yield the high percentages that grow houses do or that Madoff did, and if they do, it means they're not normal investments.)

    One of the people I used to work with (our former office manager) retired a couple years ago. He liked me so he told me lots of things, including his notion that he needed $2.7 million before he could retire. I was kind of baffled at that so I asked him about it .. at the time, I was in my mid-30s, and I explained to him that I could live the entire rest of my life quite comfortably on less than half that. I asked him what he was planning to do, buy a new car every other year or something? Pick up a couple Learjets at auction? Sheesh. But that was his own idea of “golden years”: nothing to do. Ah, well, all I can say is that it takes all kinds.

    Thanks to Far and Jimbo and many other bloggers, I've had quite awhile to get used to the idea that what we were thinking of as “retirement” during the heyday of the United Parking Lot of America (call it 1956~2006 if you want) was historically unusual and was supported only by the paradigm of steady predictable economic growth, itself a temporary feature of our increasing use of fossil fuel energy. Now that the increase rate of FF energy usage is toast (especially for the kind of energy that stays cheap and flows predictably) so is all the other bogus “growth” that it enabled. The type of “retirement” awaiting most of us under-50yo folks is going to be much closer to the pre-1900 type of retirement (aka, work until you can't, then live off the charity of relatives while you can) than what we've got now.

    But is that really bad? Death comes for us all, sooner or later ~ we are each given a death sentence the day life starts for us. At least we could handle this with a little dignity, and enjoy spending some quality time with the younger folks (hopefully passing along some useful information/skills too) rather that frittering away our time & resources on the golf course or on an endless series of sunset cruises.

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  9. Nudge, your former office manager is a prime example of stuck-in-the-box thinking. These retirement infester types are always pushing the same idea — that you'll need to spend at least as much per year through retirement as you did when you were a working stiff. Huh?

    I've never heard it said, but I suspect the 30-year mortgage was predicated on the idea that one would buy a house before age 30 and thus have it paid off before age 60 (i.e. shortly before retirement age). So unless you took on a long-term mortgage in your 40s, you only have the same maintenance costs and taxes you had before going toward your house.

    Without the commute, you don't put as many miles (especially hard stop&go miles) on your car as you used to, so you don't need to replace it as often, so you're not spending as much on your vehicle either. Those are the two major expenses right there, and they account for about 30%-40% of my current take-home pay. A lot of retirees take part-time work as much to get out of the house as to finance their whatever, and that makes at least a small dent in the retirement expenses.

    My mom knows the value of doing something useful even in retirement — she works with VITA and helps people with their taxes, does Meals on Wheels, and other volunteer work. Retirement doesn't have to be warehousing.

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  10. This is quite an interesting discussion about retirement. I happen to agree that the warehousing and ghettoisation of American life has only served to destroy interaction between the generations. The very young, the young and the very old anr warehoused in day care, schools and nursing homes, respectively, and the rest live in ghettos according to age, wealth, race/ethnicity and sexual orientation. As a result, we don't know each other and haven't gotten to like each other. Which means if we end up with a totalitarian government, the elites will divide and conquer the masses using wedge issues against scapegoated minorities. And once collapse truly gets underway, we could find ourselves fighting each other like starving rats, regardless of the form of government.

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  11. Thanks, Ed. And the adults are warehoused in offices or factories. The phrase "generation gap" was in vogue during the 70s, but people either got used to it or got distracted by other shiny (or gory) things.

    I don't worry too much about totalitarian governments post-collapse — there won't be the energy needed to run one — but we could stay distracted & divided until we go over the edge.

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  12. Yes, that's another concern. And to me, it's the forces on the right and the news media's innate tendency to play up controversy and sensationalism for viewership (not to mention Fox News' openly picking sides) that are keeping us divided and distracted.

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