Later life ‘encore work’ replaces income, reinvents retirement
23rd April 2012 · 0 Comments
By Kay Harvey
Special from MinnPost/New America Media
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Bob Hansen is good at reinventing himself. It’s a trait that has enabled him to land paying jobs since taking a buyout five years ago from the Ford Motor Company plant in St. Paul. Drawing from skills honed over the years, he has created a patchwork of jobs, both paid work and what some call “life work,” contributing to his family and community.
On the heels of downsizings, rightsizings, outsourcing and plant closings, many older boomers don’t have the wealth of high paying job opportunities they once did. Hansen, 64, has forged ahead to make work and life decisions in line with what’s both do-able and important to him now.
A Bundle of Paid and Volunteer Jobs
Hansen is a boomer whose résumé reads like a short story. Teacher. Ordained Lutheran pastor. Associate director of the Chicago Cluster of Theological Schools. Minnesota Public Radio member-services representative. Automobile hood-fitter. At 64, he has created a bundle of part-time jobs to supplement his pension from Ford and a portion he receives of his late wife’s Social Security.
In addition to tutoring and mentoring junior-high and high-school students, he provides quality control for a realty company and teaches a weekly Bible-study class at his church.
Hansen’s favorite day is Wednesday. “That’s Grampa Hansen day,” he said. He spends it each week with his three young granddaughters.
Many older boomers who leave career jobs go looking for “encore work,” said LaRhae Knatterud, director of aging transformation at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Her job put her at the helm of Transform 2010 and Aging 2030 studies assessing the aging of the huge baby boom generation (born from 1946 through 1964) in Minnesota.
How big is huge? Nationally the figure is 78 million boomers. A 2005 Minnesota Department of Health report pegged the state’s number at 1.5 million strong. By 2030, Minnesotans age 65 and older will account for 24 percent of the state’s population, more than double the percentage recorded in 2000. And more than the numbers are changing.
A Looming Skills Gap
As older boomers leave their jobs, many should open for younger workers. But in somewhat of a paradox, some employers are begging boomers to stay in their jobs, Knatterud said. Why? There aren’t enough younger people with the necessary skills. Some Fortune 500 companies are struggling to replace workers who’ve retired, she said.
“Some are stunned that there aren’t young people coming in to replace the boomers,” she said. That trend will continue. One reason is apparent: Gen X, the boomers’ children’s generation, is half as large as the boomer generation. “As we move into 2015 and on to 2025,” Knatterud said, “we won’t be able to replace the boomers.”
Another potential challenge looms, according to a Governor’s Workforce Development Council report. By 2018, 70 percent of Minnesota jobs will require education beyond high school. Yet only 40 percent of working-age adults in Minnesota have a post-secondary degree. And education levels among American workers are expected to decline in coming years – a virtually unprecedented trend.
A similar gap is occurring in other industries, such as manufacturing, where most workers now need technical skills for such tasks as programming equipment. Area community colleges offer the training. But taking that leap isn’t an easy choice for some workers.
“These are physically demanding jobs,” Knatterud said. “Some workers don’t want to go back to school for two, three or four years. For some, she said, “There’s the question of ‘How far do you go to get back in?’ “
That is among the scenarios that can lead to long-term unemployment. A worker who’s laid off and cannot find work becomes dependent on public support, Knatterud said. “It happens to some who were once at the top of their game. Some are too discouraged to look for work.” Yet for most people who quit working after turning 55, “it’s a long time to get by somehow.”
Hope for the Discouraged
All Hands on Deck, an initiative of the Governor’s Workforce Development Council, is a blueprint for strengthening Minnesota’s workforce and closing the state’s skills gap. Its initiatives and programs are geared to people across the age span, from high school and college students to aging workers and people with disabilities.
One initiative offers Lifelong Learning Accounts (LILAs), “portable money” designated for job training that people can use in a current job or apply to education for a new career. Knatterud framed LILAs as “a way of putting funds together to change employment and be prepared with the right skills.”
Important as it is, though, money isn’t everything. When David Buck was laid off a few years ago from a real-estate company at age 46, he said, he felt “all alone.” Then he met visionary Jan Hively, who said, “What you really need is community.” Buck, of Minneapolis, forged ahead to create his own.
Working with Hively, who had founded the Twin Cities-based Vital Aging Network [http://vital-aging-network.org/], Buck co-created SHiFT [http://www.shiftonline.org/], which offers sessions and workshops that have supported dozens of people at midlife and older seeking greater meaning in their work and their lives.
Besides starting a nonprofit, Buck needed to find another part-time paying job. He decided to pursue a new field for him: fundraising. After 75 interviews, Buck signed on for a half-time job raising money for the Washburn High School Foundation, where his children were to go to high school.
Buck later took that experience and found a part-time position with the Benedictine Health Center of Minneapolis. He paired that with creation of his own consulting business, helping churches and schools raise money and assist them with marketing. The combination “utilizes all of my gifts,” he said.
SHiFT and New Risk
SHiFT’s webmaster, Jay McManus, describes the SHiFT network as “a community of seekers.” Not everyone in the network is seeking a paycheck.
SHiFT’s emphasis, Buck said, is “a more holistic approach.” It’s people “taking time to redefine what they want remaining life to be like. We have broad definitions of work – paid and unpaid. That could mean taking care of a loved one,” he said.
Some SHiFT participants have transitioned into paid work after completing a “midternship,” an internship for people at midlife who learn alongside a mentor skilled in work that a midtern wants to pursue.
Knatterud cites SHiFT co-creator Jan Hively’s philosophy: “Productive until the last breath,” she said. You can read to a blind person, Knatterud suggested. Or to a child. You can send a get-well card.
“With the ‘Great Risk Shift’ comes a redefinition of the safety net,” Knatterud said, referring to American society’s transfer of risks to secure long-term financial stability, from public and employer-based protections to individual investments and decisions.
“Values and what’s important start changing. There’s a redefinition of who we turn to when we need help,” Knatterud observed. In down times there’s a return to the values of family, community and helping each other, she said.
“It’s already happening,” she said. More Minnesota families are living in multigenerational households. Some share transportation, too. Along with that, Minnesota has among the nation’s highest rates of volunteerism.
We are still, as boomers, a wonderful resource,” she said. Some may not get a high-paying job. Some will find another job and then later develop a disability and not be able to work. “But you can serve society in other ways,” she said. “Think of what you can do for your grandkids. We need to take advantage of that now.”
Kay Harvey wrote this article as part of series titled “Baby Boom to Aging Boom.” To read all four articles, including a longer version of this one, visit MinnPost, which originated the series. Harvey wrote the series as part of a MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship, a project of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.
This article originally published in the April 23, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.