Give the baby boomers some credit for this latest wave of stock market upsurge. Yeah, I know that sounds just like a boomer – arrogant and self-absorbed. But listen to my reasoning and then decide whether I’m right.

Boomers are obviously older than all but the oldest in our population. That generally results in a bit more job security because they have seniority. And, indeed, the numbers comfirm that. The unemployment rate for those over 50 is considerably lower than for those under 50. The unemployment rate for 55 to 64-year olds is about 5.7%, considerably less than the overall number which is 7.9% (the rate for 45- to 54-year olds is about 6.1%). So what does that mean and how does that translate into a bull market?

Simply put, the baby boomers are not hurt as badly by the recession as are the rest of the population. They (we) don’t feel as negative and probably have greater optimism. Why?

For one, we’ve been through a number of downtowns and have seen upswings that followed. The sky didn’t fall and we are now better off than we were a few years ago. We bought our houses longer ago than the others and even with the drop in the housing market, many of us still have some equity. In addition, we don’t tend to move as often as younger people so we probably didn’t have to sell at a loss.

Secondly, we have more money overall in our retirement accounts and other investments than do the young-uns. We don’t like seeing the returns of 1% or less that we get from CDs and other conservative investments. We are an antsy group and in this our arrogance helps us. We’re anxious to have our net worth be worthy of us!

Thirdly, we probably don’t have to plan for as many big expenses coming like college expenses for our kids. Most of this age group are already empty nesters or in the final years of paying the expenses for our kids. We’re seeing more of the light at the end of the fiscal tunnel now. We’re seeing that ahead lies our later years and we want to do what we can to be better off than it looked like we’d be. Sure many of our kids have rebounded and are staying with us. But we see that as temporary. And yes, we have other major expenses such as weddings and caring for our parents. But our kids are waiting longer to get married and the drain on us for caring for our parents is less about the financial difficulties than about the emotional strain, lack of time, complex insurance and legal concerns, and day-to-day caring concerns.

The result? We invest. We see a few hopeful signs and we move more of our money out of those safe investments into equities. We want to feel positive. We want there to be gains in stocks. As we learned long ago in our Econ 101 classes, that optimism drives the stock market higher.

So where does it go? Here’s what I think, to the extent that it matters. It goes up. Then down, then up again. It’s what the market does. In the short term we’ll see a bit more ride upwards. Then some folks will get scared or there’ll be some international news that causes jitters. Then we’ll get our perspective back and see another ride up. What we’ll experience is just like what we’ve experienced in the past. Only with more dollars and more people involved. That will cause even more volatility. But in the longer term, all that up and down will even off.

What we’ll also see is a slight decrease in the kinds of upswing returns since more of us, as we age, will heed the advice of good planners and will be more conservative with our investments. More of us will be working less or retired. More of us will be on fixed income, some just on Social Security. More of us will die.

But we won’t lose our optimism. We pronounced long ago that we changed the world and we still think we can. It’s all about us, right?

 
My father and father-in-law each had a leg amputated, quite some time ago. Months later, well after the amputations healed, both complained of severe pain in their foot. But neither had a foot. The pain was called “referred pain” and my wife and I dismissed it as being “in their head.” In fact, the pain was a result of the nerves that headed down that way being stimulated quite unpleasantly and was very, very real. Excruciatingly real. But I didn’t really know that then.

I know it now having just experienced it myself, thankfully not as a result of losing a leg. I had an injection in the facet of my cervical spine at level C2. The doc inserted the needle, fairly painlessly, and then administered the steroid. The pressure I felt at the injection area was expected and uncomfortable. But it was tolerable. What got me, and what freaked me out, was the real pain I felt about 6 inches higher than the injection site, at the side of my head above my ear. I was scared. I wondered if my brain was being affected. I called out to the doc, informing her of this pain. Informing might not express the fear I had. It felt as if she was pressing her thumb against the side of my head. But this doc was super. She immediately calmed me down, reminding me to breathe into the pain, and mostly easing my concern by stating emphatically that it was referred pain. I can’t tell you how weird it felt. Here I was lying on a table with a needle in my spine, with real, sharp pain coming from the side of my head. And then it went away, just like the doc told me it would.

A few minutes later she was injecting level C5, and this time I felt a sharp stabbing in the middle of my back and under my shoulder blade. Again I informed my doc, but this time with considerably less affect. I knew, and she assured me again that this was referred pain.

Many caregivers deal with people who either have lost legs or arms, often a result of diabetes, or have nerve-related disorders. Nerves are complicated things in many ways. You may have a sore leg or foot, but the root of the pain is in your back. Pressing strategic spots along the route of the nerve often has the feeling of easing the pain, even more than pressing the spot in your back where the nerve root exits the spine. Maybe that’s how acupuncture works. I don’t know. But I do know that I’ve pressed on places and the pain I felt elsewhere eased. So there’s something to this.

I hope you never have to experience it yourself. And the next time you are with someone complaining about pain you absolutely know is not coming from that spot, understand that it’s referred pain. And be sympathetic and empathetic. It’s very real, a very odd sensation, and very painful.