A growing number of “encore careers”

Retirement is an interesting topic these days in the United States: can people retire after the losses in the recent economic crisis? How will society pay for Social Security and medical benefits when all those Baby Boomers retire? How will states (and other organizations) pay for pensions that have been underfunded?

One answer: have those who have retired enter an “encore career.”

Daly is part of the growing “encore careers” movement — an effort to match older workers who can’t or don’t want to retire with public service jobs that benefit society. The movement, begun in the late 1990s, has spawned non-profit groups and programs from Boston to Portland, Ore., aimed at helping older workers find new work. Many of the programs are run by people who have made the transition.

At a time when 77 million Baby Boomers ages 46-65 are moving toward traditional retirement age, analysts say the movement could grow exponentially in the coming decades. A 2008 survey by MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a national think tank on boomers and work, found more than 5 million Americans in encore careers. Half of those ages 44-70 expressed interest in them.

Moving from one career to a more altruistic job late in life isn’t easy, however. Analysts say there aren’t enough of those jobs yet, the pay is usually low and employers often favor younger applicants.

It seems to me that there is a larger issue underlying these practical obstacles: as a society, do we value the kinds of contributions older citizens can make? Those who have retired or are nearing retirement have a wealth of experience, related to jobs and working but also a variety of important life lessons and skills,  that the rest of society could benefit from. But if we are a society that tends to value youth and novelty, then these encore careers might not be something we encourage.

Ultimately, a movement like this could end up being a nice solution to some of the demographic and financial issues that face the country in the next few decades. If the number of these jobs could grow, those who have retired can share their experiences and wisdom while also earning some money in order to ease the financial burden on broader society.

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