Interview with Terri Benincasa, Host of Talk Radio Show Boomer Nation! on WGUL 860 AM, 5:00 – 6:00 p
To celebrate May being Older Americans Month as observed by the Administration on Aging (AoA), we have conducted a series of interviews we will be posting on this blog throughout the month. The theme issued by the AoA for this year is “Age Strong! Live Long!” to recognize the diversity and vitality of today’s older Americans who span three generations. The interviews are with several outstanding people who share how they live this year’s theme each and every day, and give us insight into the profound contribution and influence of older Americans today.
How are Boomers’ views on aging different from previous generations? We have a catch line on the show: ‘Never refer to a Boomer as a Senior, unless it is followed by ‘partner in the firm’. Many local stores here (Tampa Bay) advertise promotions as ‘Senior Day: anyone over 50’. I think they’ll get 70 and 80–year–olds, but not someone who is in their 50s. There are too many companies trying to market to Boomers that don’t know how to. Using terms like ‘older’, ‘senior’and ‘elder’ are not good monikers. They are not Boomer–friendly.
If many reject terms such as ‘older’, ‘elder’ or ‘senior’, how do you observe them self–identifying? Are they inventing new terms or will they ‘take back’ these terms by giving them different meanings? We are not relating to anything that is identified by age. In the society of previous generations age was not as big an issue as it is for us. The need for age–related things will be changed by us. Some age–relation is fine, we do recognize the need for specially designed products for us, but trying to find a single descriptor they relate to, well, there isn’t one. For example, to describe the upper end of Boomers, they are often referred to as ‘leading-edge Boomers’. The ones who use that term know to use it because they know not to use those other terms that just turn that age group off.
Some boomers are retired or about to, yet some say they will never retire. Some are starting encore careers and new businesses; others have just become empty–nesters or caregivers. Their realities at this life stage seem so different. What still unifies Boomers today? There are Boomer traits and characteristics that still unify us. Again, not many companies or marketers recognize this. Yes, the age range is vast, but saying we have nothing in common is completely untrue. Certain traits and characteristics still bind us. For example, the Boomer generation operates in extremes. Even Boomers may not be particularly aware of this. There were the latch key kids of leading–edge Boomers, who came home to no parents in the home, then, on the other end of spectrum are helicopter parents which are the youngest Boomers, who now have kids who don’t do anything on their own. These are Boomer characteristics. It is the same thing with extreme debt being part of life. Also, the love to be in control spans the whole generation. An example of our control is that we want to be complete partners in our health care. Older generations took what the doctor said as law. Boomers, no matter the age, don’t do that. Another thing we have in common is having been raised by members of the greatest generation, whose parenting was similar, even of the youngest Boomers, who raised us to believe we deserved better. We were the first coddled generation, for example, having our education, specifically college, paid for. When I went to college most of my peers’ tuition was paid for by their parents.
Tom Brokaw, in this recent NBC documentary Boomer$! which aired in March, said he thought that Boomers’ potential was ‘unrealized’. What are your thoughts on this? What do you think will be the legacy of Boomers? I consider Tom an honorary Boomer. I would agree with his statement. We Boomers need to get our mojo back. When we were known as tree hugging hippies in our youth, we fought against “the man.” But as soon as we graduated and had to make a living, we became the man we so disliked in college. When you look at everything going on today—the greed, exploitation of the environment and of labor for cheap products, and all the misinformation—guess who leads the pack? Boomers are the ones in charge of the corporations and are the majority of our nation’s legislators. And we are doing what we hated when we were young. Why? Because as it turns out, we wanted what the man had, because we were told we deserved better, and by golly we agree! For sure, we worked hard for it. We had latch–key kids because we were out there working hard. But our parents understood what we didn’t, that their value as people was not based on how many and what “things” they possessed. I have to agree with the angst out there that we Boomers are in fact responsible for much of what is wrong today. We are the decision makers. And to that end, we are absolutely unrealized.
Do you think Boomers can become ‘realized’? Absolutely! Not only can we do it, we must do it. We are the only people who can do it. We are the only group with the numbers and clout, and we have done it before!
Having interviewed so many dynamic Boomers, what older Americans do you admire? What inspiration or wisdom have they imparted to you? Those who inspire me are the ones who take care of elderly parents and children—the sandwich generation. Those who are volunteering their time, rather than just making themselves wealthier. Those who are living their ideals, they are my heroes. The ones involved in teaching and social services. I don’t use the term ‘ordinary citizens’ because none of us is “ordinary”, but it is the citizens dedicating their time to making a difference, not celebrities, not corporate CEOs, who I find inspiring. One that comes to mind is Susan Jacobs who started a non-profit called Wheels of Success, which provides a range of transportation solutions to low and moderate income working families, based in Tampa Bay (an area with extremely poor public transportation, thus the tremendous need for her organization). Susan put everything she had on the line—all her money and time—to realize that vision.
Boomer Nation! Airs on WGUL 860 AM, 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. (EST). Listen live here or… Download podcasts of prior broadcasts here.