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).
COMPANIES ON THE MOVE
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.