More than ever before, higher education is a key ingredient in success, according to a report last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Census officials said Thursday that Americans who are 60 or older are more likely than ever before to have college degrees. As baby boomers enter traditional retirement age, that aging segment of the population is picking up its percentage of degree-holding members at a faster rate than young adults.
Older Americans are also slower at taking the retirement plunge, with 20 percent of today's employed Americans having already celebrated their 55th birthday. By 2020, government officials predict, that percentage will rise to 25 percent.
Part of this, no doubt, is pragmatism. With the Great Recession, a great number of retirement nest eggs cracked open, forcing some who might have retired to delay it. Also, with the emphasis on higher education that their parents placed on baby boomers, boomers are performing higher-skilled jobs than those that were held by senior citizens of previous generations, which makes them harder to replace. Then there's health care. The older you get, the more expensive it gets, and it helps all around to be on a company medical plan.
But the biggest factor may be a fundamental change in the way retirement is viewed. Fifty just doesn't seem that old any more and, in many ways, 60 is the new 40. A large segment of baby boomers simply refuse to "go gentle into that good night," as poet Dylan Thomas so eloquently stated it.
No, if a generation is going to "burn and rave at close of day; rage, rage against the dying of the light," its America's boomers.
Those of us who are boomers, however, owe a debt of gratitude to the Greatest Generation who taught us the value of education, who pushed and prodded us to take advantage of it. The generation that saved the world from a mad dictator's global war wanted better lives for their children and knew education was critical to that end.
The census numbers bear that wisdom out. A few of the census findings as reported by The Associated Press were:
n The average annual earnings for people who had a bachelor's degree in 2010 was $58,000, $27,000 more than the $31,000 average for those whose highest education level was a high school diploma;
n Employment for young adults (ages 16-29) was at 55.3 percent in 2010, the lowest rate since World War II and down from 67.3 percent in 2000. For those 55-74, the employment rate was 50.6 percent, an improvement of 8 percent over the same 10 years;
n The group of Americans with at least a bachelor's degree had lower rates of unemployment than those with less education in every month from January 2008 to December 2010.
n The unemployment rate for those without a high school diploma peaked at 17.9 percent in February 2010. That was the month when unemployment for those with a bachelor's degree also peaked -- at 5.9 percent;
n The percentage of Americans who had completed college in 2010 was 30.4 percent, a record high;
n The percentage of Americans 60 and older who have college degrees has doubled since 1992, growing from 13 percent to 26 percent.
William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution who reviewed the data, told AP that the trends indicate seniors will be "a major player in the labor force of the future."
"The fact that a substantial segment of today's older workers are more educated and experienced accounts for their taking fewer employment hits," he told AP. "It suggests the wisdom of formulating government policies and incentives to keep these well-educated seniors in the labor force beyond the traditional retirement age of 65."
Indeed. And if you're looking at the big aging boomer generation and investing in porch rockers, you might want to rethink it. Boomers are rocking away their senior years all right, but a whole different way.