What's next for boomers

In the years ahead, five key trends will dominate your financial life. So far you've been lucky, baby boomer. Now it's time to be smart.

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By Janice Revell, Money Magazine senior writer

4. Your career will get...complicated
Eileen Gordon. age 60: In a volatile job market, this nurse-practitioner took her career into her own hands by starting a health care business.

The past 25 years: Boomers who joined the work force in the 1980s and rose through its ranks in the 90s benefited from a huge seller's market for labor. More than 40 million new jobs were created during the Reagan and Clinton administrations, which drove the national unemployment rate down from a peak of 10.8% in 1982 to 3.8% in 2000.

If you remember, back in the 1970s many economists thought 5% unemployment was actually "full employment." (Ironically, many economists today think we're headed for recession because the unemployment rate ticked back up to 5%.)

Yet the job boom had a dark side: job instability. Employers were willing to hire partly because they no longer viewed doing so as a long-term commitment. The shrinking influence of labor unions and the growing availability of cheap labor abroad contributed to that.

The result: Even as the unemployment rate fell, the pace of firings and layoffs - which economists euphemize as "involuntarily job losses" - didn't. So finding a job has become easy. Keeping it for a long time is a different story.

What's next: Don't expect job instability to settle down just because you've finally become one of the old-timers around the office. Almost a third of workers change occupations after 51, according to the Urban Institute - and a quarter of those moves are forced by downsizing.

The good news is, job churn cuts both ways. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that as older boomers exit the work force, U.S. companies will need to fill as many as 34 million net jobs through 2015. You may need to be willing to change industries or titles - even to take a pay cut - to land one of those jobs. But odds are, the work will be there.

Do it now

Stay ahead of the curve. Even more than with other trends, coping with the workplace of the next few decades will require a willingness to change. The old "grow, plateau and go" career arc will be put to rest, as will the assumption that your last year before retirement will be your highest paid.

Above all, be prepared to take your future into your own hands and anticipate where your skills will be needed. That's what Eileen Gordon did. Last year the Shaker Heights, Ohio resident, now 60, started to feel burned out from a career as a nurse-practitioner. But she didn't want to waste her experience.

"I wanted to find something where I could use all of the skills I built up over 30 years," she says. So she became a franchisee of Passport Health, a chain of clinics that administers vaccines to travelers and immigrants. Gordon says the small business is a perfect fit. Her only regret: "I wish I had gone into business earlier."

Follow the jobs. Most of the fastest-growing professions of the next few decades will put a premium on brainpower, not brawn. "That bodes well for older workers," says Richard Johnson, a retirement expert at the Urban Institute. The sectors where boomers will be most in demand are health care, government and advisory services like financial planning. In the latter especially, gray hair is an advantage, boomer. Be glad.

What's next for boomers: 5. The most reliable retirement plan will be plan B To top of page

More from the boomers' guide to financial freedom:

A midlife money checkup

Getting older and getting better

What you owe your kids
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