It sneaked up on us, kind of like the rain at Woodstock.

We knew it was coming, but who would have thought it would muddy the landscape so completely?

Baby boomers in massive numbers are being forced to deal with their own mortality -- or at least their mortality as it relates to the workplace. Remember us? The wild youth who didn't trust anyone over 30 and figured the world was doomed to Vonnegut-like dismal disintegration, but still had an inkling, like Benjamin Braddock, there might be a future in plastics.

During the next 20 years or so, America's second-revolutionary generation -- the one that evolved into the "me" generation and finally into straight-laced dot-com capitalists -- will retire in droves.

That's good news for leisure communities, golf courses and cruise lines around the globe, but it's a precarious situation for public retirement systems.

The federal government has, of course, long been privy to the boomer rumor -- the whispers hinting that in the 21st century, Social Security would be bankrupted by an influx of cash hungry retirees whose massive numbers could drain the disposable income right out of Generation X.

Republicans and Democrats have different ideas on how to resuscitate that sickly system. In public sector retirement systems, however, things are a bit different. Officials don't have the luxury of blaming past administrators, a limping economy or the other political party. In fact, public retirement systems are not only supposed to provide graying public employees a comfortable, work-free golden age, but also do so for more years than they ever thought likely.

The "live fast, die young" generation is slowing down and living longer than any other group of Americans in history.

Faced with an explosion in retirees, which unnervingly includes many members of their own work force, public retirement systems increasingly are turning to technology to unburden their staff members and save money -- and lots of it.

That's good news for systems that handle billions of employee dollars for public employees who trust them to make secure their final decade or two -- or three. And though it might shock cynical, post-Watergate Gen Xers now sinking dollars into 401(k) plans and heavily diversified portfolios, by and large, it seems that trust has been well founded.

For the most part, public retirement systems are not only taking the pending explosion in pension payouts seriously, they are building IT systems equipped to deal with the situation.

It is, of course, a tough row to hoe, and everything might not work as well as administrators would like, but even if public retirement system officials can't always get what they want, if they keep implementing cutting-edge technology, they just might find they'll get what they need.

Kris Middaugh  |  Staff Writer