Boomer Bust

Can the AARP be forever young?

What's at stake is symbolic, but still important. Where people aged 70 and up can recall the nation uniting in a great cause (whether fighting a Dust Bowl, the Nazis, or the Communist Menace), people aged 42 to 70 recall only division over race, ideology, and the use of military force. The over-70s sought and often found lifetime employment; the boomers have been downsized or part-timed until they learned not to trust anyone. At the Social Security booth, I asked whether many people walk up worried about their current or future payments and was told, "It depends on their age. The older ones are quite happy to thank us for prompt service and clear advice. But the younger they are, the more worried."

Finally, the 50ish set is the first generation that has been marketed to as a generation from the start; this is the demographic that grew up with the term "demographic" (coined in 1960s TV programming), and that sequentially coined, abused, and then got sick of the term "lifestyle."

AARP, it seems, realizes that selling itself to this slippery, skeptical and--in the words of its own report--"somewhat self-involved" crowd will take some doing. Within the next few weeks, the group plans to take part in a promotional extravaganza as the "Rock the Vote" campaign of MTV fame becomes "Rock the Ages"--because, as one AARP field staffer explains, "our membership is 90 percent registered to vote, but the younger ones don't actually go to the polls." The project will be hyped on the Internet as "NetVote '98" and boosted in public by a two-generation pop-culture tag team, names to be announced. "We were hoping for Bob and Jakob Dylan," the staffer at the Rock the Ages booth told me, "but Bob wasn't available."

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