Growing old in the U.S. is becoming increasingly scary. Beginning in January, U.S. baby boomers will be turning 60 at a rate of more than 4 million per year, and for most of them the American dream of a comfortable, worry-free retirement after a life of hard work is not going to materialize.
With the decline of the stock market and the widespread collapse of pension plans, real estate is currently the only substantial wealth that many people possess. Real property, becoming progressively more expensive, cannot be sold for gain because of the cost of replacement housing. To make matters worse, due to high maintenance expenses and taxes, retirees with greatly reduced or zero income may not be able to hold on to the property they have.
Even those individuals who own their homes outright and are lucky enough to receive retirement income will not be guaranteed a secure end-of-life experience because of the spiraling costs of health care, consumer goods, insurance, transportation, etc. Seeking some level of comfort and security, many boomers are resigned to working indefinitely while others are considering retirement in Latin America, especially Mexico, where the cost of living is considerably less than in the U.S.
This migration of boomers is not like the flights of the past that were dominated by the rich bound for palatial homes tended by scores of native housekeepers, gardeners, etc. Today the migrants are increasingly working-class Americans — teachers, military personnel, medical workers, mid-management, technicians, etc. — and the affordable retirement communities in Mexico that are attracting them more closely resemble the dreary suburbs of El Paso than the picturesque neighborhoods of Puebla and are more likely to be located on a desolate hillside in Baja than on the beachfront at Acapulco.
By necessity, friends, family, and culture must be left behind, but the ubiquitous global communication system and seemingly infinite myriad of satellite TV channels can offer some measure of consolation to the expatriates. In addition, U.S. consumer culture is following the migrants and their money, and, no matter how remote the retirement colony, if there is not a Wal-Mart in the vicinity there soon will be.
It is ironic that in the same era that has witnessed the mass migration of Mexican citizens to the U.S. to do capitalism’s blue collar work while learning English on the job and from their children, some older Americans are taking Spanish lessons to facilitate their retirements in Mexico, and U.S. college counselors are advising science and engineering students to study Chinese in order to secure a career. The promise of American capitalism these days is the same for everyone in the working class — exile and alienation for the benefit of the ruling class.