Jay and Conan: A Generational Workplace Issue?

Wow. Good thing I decided to chase the belt on the treadmill this morning instead of hitting the concrete. Looks like the roads here in NE Ohio managed to accumulate a light layer of ice overnight. I don’t need to face that in the early a.m. on two feet or four wheels. So I’m better off plodding along on the ‘mill and catching up on the TV news.

Let’s see. The devastation — and entire situation, really — in Haiti is horrific. The special election for the Senate seat in Massachusetts is compelling. And the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien affair is a debacle.

I’ll admit it. I don’t stay up late enough to watch either Jay or Conan — ever. I don’t recall seeing The Tonight Show hosted by either of them. Woot. So I don’t have an opinion on the relative merits of either as an entertainer. And I’m not sure that it really matters all that much who hosts The Tonight Show these days. David Carr had an interesting perspective in his NYT column yesterday, “It’s Not Jay or Conan. It’s Us.” He opines, in effect, that the audience has slowly been abandoning late-night TV for a variety of reasons — and that trend won’t change.

Maybe so. But beyond ratings, entertainment and egos here, I wonder if we are seeing an issue being played out very publicly that is also occurring in workplaces across the nation. It’s the idea of a generational shift — where one group leaves the workforce creating opportunities for younger workers.

For a variety of reasons — setbacks during the Great Recession, the imploding of the stock market and retirement savings accounts, longer life expectancies and so on — older workers are staying in the workforce longer. And with fewer jobs available overall — particularly full-time jobs that pay a decent wage with benefits — this has implications for those waiting in the job queue.

For instance, interesting article by Michael Winerip (“On Vacation and Looking for Wi-Fi”) in the Sunday NYT:

Even more striking to me is the government’s predictions about what is going to happen to us boomers in the workplace over the next decade as we reach what used to be considered retirement age.

A lot of us will go right on working.

In 1988, when the World War II greatest generation was hitting retirement age, 11.5 percent of people 65 and older were still working. By 2008, 16.8 percent of those 65 and older were working, and by 2018, when those 65 and over will be mostly boomers, 22.4 percent are expected to still be working, according to a new study by Mitra Toossi, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

She projects that by 2018, 14 percent of 79-year-olds — 1 in 7 — will still work, versus 6.1 percent in 1988 (1 in 16). “It is an amazing change in a short time,” Ms. Toossi said.

Some of this is good — we’re healthier and want to work longer. Some is social policy — a change is now in progress in the age when people are able to retire with full Social Security benefits, from 65 to 67.

And some is just really bad news. The economic downturn has depleted retirement and savings accounts and that means many will have no choice.

For the time being, lots of us are staying in condition to work until we’re 79 by keeping at it on vacations and weekends.

Before the Great Recession there was the notion that there would be a shortage of jobs in this country: baby boomers would retire in mass with fewer young people following them into the workplace.

We’ll see.

And Jay Leno — or most anyone else for that matter — should not be forced to retire.

But the Jay and Conan debacle does point to some bigger national issues that we are still going to have to wrestle with — and they are more important that who hosts The Tonight Show.

It’s about jobs. It’s about the economy. And it’s generational.

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2 responses to “Jay and Conan: A Generational Workplace Issue?

  1. Wow – you are right. At my own election, I retired two years ago from the energy industry. Since then, I have seen many friends, close to my age that have been let go. It is not always about performance. It is about money.

    It is so hard for those age 55+ to make it back to the marketplace. But it can be done. Faith and persistence will carry one through. My best to all those looking for work.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Don. This strikes me as an issue that more and more baby boomers — and organizations — are going to face in the years ahead and long after the economy improves.

    Many for a variety of reasons will want to continue working beyond what was once considered a “normal” retirement age. That has plenty of implications for them, younger workers and our economy in general.

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