Lawmakers will look back on 2011 as the year the U.S. started down into a financial Grand Canyon, because the first baby boomers turn 65 this year — the front edge of a tidal wave of baby boomer retirements.

“Over the next 20 years, around 10,000 baby boomers will be retiring each day,” says Andrew Biggs, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. “That means more people collecting social security, more people collecting Medicare, more people collecting Medicaid as well,”

That also means the members of one of the most affluent generations will slow down in buying cars and homes and consumer products of all kinds, as they pass their peak earning years and head into retirement.

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