The Retirement Heartbreak Hidden in “OK Boomer”

There’s a bigger reason to dig into the OK Boomer meme than to sound like you are listening: those generations deserve retirement solutions as their situations are much more complex than the Boomers that came before them.

Like most snarky comments, “OK Boomer” hides a wealth of anger, anxiety and disappointment behind its prickly facade. As the phrase has been gaining in popularity on social media platforms like TikTok and SnapChat, it may seem like a dismissive wave of the hand towards an older generation, but dig deeper and you’ll find that the emotions behind the snark belie legitimate worries of a generation.

You may associate the OK Boomer phrase with Millenials and Gen Z (that’s those folks born between 1997 and 2012) and their concerns about the environment and their concerns about a climate crisis, and if you did you might be as tone deaf as the Boomers. Case in point? AARP’s SVP Myrna Blyth recently clapped back at Gen Z’s use of the phrase OK Boomer, by saying “Okay, millennials, but we’re the people that actually have the money.” And that’s exactly the problem. OK Boomer hits at how money is kept, spent, and made. And they let Blyth know their feelings. “Don't worry, Hun, we'll keep working our 60+ hours a week to pay for your SS Checks!” said one on Twitter while others mentioned working hard to keep basics on, like heat and lights.

The heat behind the OK Boomer response may be that: Millenials and GenZer see retirees as having surplus cash and having had relatively stable jobs. They contrast that with their own experience of feeling beleaguered by debt and worrying about job stability. In fact, for most Millenials and GenZer’s the only constant may be change.

In 2018 an NPR/Marist poll found that 1 in 5 jobs in America is held by a worker under contract. Within a decade, contractors and freelancers could make up half of the American workforce. Contractors often don’t get benefits, like health care, or retirement savings accounts. While most contractors do qualify for unemployment, in most states the total amount of unemployment compensation per month that can be collected is $2000. The average rent on a one bedroom apartment is $1000 and the average student loan payment is $393 for college graduates. That leaves roughly $500 left for car payments, health care premiums, utilities, and other minor things like food. Because of this Millenials, even more than Boomers, must prioritize savings accounts and while they are considerably better than other generations, like this GenX writer, at saving for retirement, they often forgo luxuries like dining out to do so.

Millenials and GenZ share the phenomenon of watching the middle class shrink whilst seeing the income gap widen. Boomers may perceive these financial concerns as a “woe is me” kind of attitude. recently posted a back and forth on the OK Boomer meme between a millennial and a boomer that even more starkly highlights the retirement concerns noted above. From the Millenial: “
When my parents were my age, they owned a home, had no educational debt, and were comfortably raising two children. I'm married with six-figure student loan debt and two cats.” And the Boomer’s response? “Complaining about how tough you have it in the "gig" economy of the richest, most successful and diverse democracy in the history of the planet doesn't cut it. In much of the world no "gigs" are even within reach, so consider yourself lucky to have more than one.” Just like Myrna Blythe, this response utterly misses the anger and fear of the economic insecurity Millenials are voicing. It also misses the heartbreak of disappointment. Many Millenials and GenZers will miss out on the economic security Boomers currently enjoy.

Advisors can use this trend to identify these themes of disappointment, anger and fear. By finding examples of OK Boomer discussions, like the conversation above, Advisors can locate specific concerns. They can use these articles and concerns to drive their marketing as solution based. The best and most read digital marketing tends to be articles that answer questions. Consider this: You are much more likely to open an article titled “Want to Learn to Cook Wild Rice in ½ the time?” than one titled, “Pre-Soaking: How it Impacts the Granular Nature of Wild Rice” even though both articles inevitably will cover soaking the not-really-a-grain grain. “How do you Save for Retirement in a Gig Economy?” will similarly get more views and attract new clients more than “IRAs and Compound Interest are Vital to Saving.”  And there’s a bigger reason to dig into the OK Boomer meme than to sound like you are listening: those generations deserve retirement solutions as their situations are much more complex than the Boomers that came before them.

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