Thanks to the brutal combination of the recent recession and boomer demographics, the words “retirement” and “penury” are practically synonymous. The oldest members of the massive Baby Boom generation became eligible for Social Security during the housing bust and global credit crunch of 2008. Talk about bad timing. Boomers nearing the traditional retirement years watched their investments plunge in value. Morbid jokes about 201(k)s were told in bars and offices across the country. Jeremiads about boomers and retirement became a staple of think tank reports and Op-Ed pages.

Yet the financial foundation of leading-edge boomers looks stronger in the aggregate than commonly assumed, and it’s likely to improve in coming years. A better grasp of boomer finances lets us see how a majority of boomers can improve their own circumstances when it comes to retirement—and where policy makers should take a stand to help out the most vulnerable.