Back to the Communes

The commune. Many claimed “commune” was short for “communism” when it rose to prominence in the 1960s and became popular among hippies, yippies and beatniks. Those libertines seemed more interested in smoking weed, growing long hair and partaking in the sexual revolution than becoming contributing members of traditional society.

That way then. Now that cohort is the aging baby boom generation, and they are retiring at a clip of 10,000 per day. Actually, it’s more accurate to say 10,000 per day are turning age 65, which we have long considered retirement age.

Here’s the problem: 57 percent of American workers have saved less than $25,000 for retirement, and 28 percent have saved less than $1,000, according to statistics compiled by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Good luck retiring on that paltry serving of cheddar.

Those financial straits are why conversations among the retirement-age set so often includes notions of taking Social Security checks overseas to places such as Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines and other Latin American and Asian countries where the lifestyle is good and the strong American dollar stretches two or three times as far. The reality check that so often puts the brakes on that notion is the dismal prospect of being so distant from children and grandchildren, as well as extended family members and a lifetime of accumulated friends.

And now we begin to understand why the commune is coming back into vogue — albeit without the weed, “free love” and iconoclastic visions. Now we’re talking about a small group of people sharing living quarters, chores and expenses with different motivations in mind than during their first iteration of the commune experience. They are looking for companionship, assistance during times of infirmity and, of course, the opportunity to combine financial resources in a way that amplifies the power of those modest Social Security checks and retirement savings.

Heck, maybe we can even team up with some lifelong friends and family members, people we know, like and get along with. It could even be a multi-generational commune. Young people (yes, millennials) are already living with their parents in near-record numbers, and not just because they cannot find jobs. Many do have jobs and they actuallylike their parents. Attitudes have changed since we baby boomers were kids. When attitudes change, so do lifestyles. Millennials see value in teaming up (and it’s a great way to stuff the mattress with greenbacks so they don’t end up old and broke like their parents).

There is another factor at work here. When boomers think about the prospect of finishing their lives in a nursing home, their mouths pucker like they just bit into a lemon. No thank you. Unless you have a ton of loot to carry yourself through those so-called Golden Years, that nursing home isn’t exactly going to be the Taj Mahal. Creamed corn and fruit cocktail is not appetizing at any age.

Assuming the communal living trend gains real momentum, it could even be a great real estate development opportunity.

Consider that we used to live in groups. They were called “extended families.” As wealthy societies flourished, though, we decided we wanted our own space. We wanted privacy — even solitude. The property construction business was happy to balkanize our living situations, ushering in the era of single-family homes occupied by nuclear families and with backyards fenced-off from our neighbors. Little wonder so many Americans feel isolated and even alienated from their societies.

Since those days the economics have changed. Families, even extended families, have started to aggregate under the same roofs again. Hence, group living is back in style, and the benefits of connectedness are becoming apparent to many. Human beings are social animals, after all.

Communal living is back for young and old, albeit in modified form. It is even the subject of feature stories in The Atlantic, the Huffington Post and The New York Times.

Some baby boomers have come full circle and are back to communal-style living. Others are sure to follow, out of economic necessity if nothing else. They are sharing their financial resources, their labor, their talents and their companionship. Heck, with the way marijuana laws are changing in this country, they might even have some flashbacks and burn a little weed. Just for old time’s sake.