Older Workers Need to Stay in the Workforce

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I urge you to read Dan Kadlec’s column in this week’s TIME, titled “Making Flexible Retirements Work.” It begins:

Making the most of our retirement-age population has become a hot issue in Washington, where for the past 75 years federal policy has been designed around easing folks who are past 50 out of the workforce rather than enticing them to stay in it. If you’re reaching that age now, however, you’re headed for a whole new reality.

The reality for older Americans, says Kadlec, is this:

Inside the Beltway, one answer is increasingly heard: let’s get a continuing economic contribution from folks after their primary career has ended and before they start draining the system’s pension and health-care assets. That’s bad news if you’re looking forward to a kick-up-your-heels early retirement; the financial and cultural support for a purely leisure-filled later life is drying up. But if you crave opportunities for a flexible job that you will enjoy or volunteer work that makes use of your skills and speaks to your heart, then what’s good for the federal budget may be good for you too.

Some traditional obstacles to extending working life–like mandatory retirement ages–are already, for the most part, history. But we need to rewrite pension laws and healthcare plans so as not to penalize older people for continuing to work.

What Kadlec and other experts advocate is flexible work. No one’s saying a 68-year-old former finance VP needs to continue pulling long billable hours. But he could take on part-time accountancy for a nonprofit. (And though the article doesn’t address this, working years are severely shortened if one’s occupation involves physical labor.)

Kadlec suggests the following occupations:

Education. Teachers are always in demand, especially in cities. If you have a college degree in any field, you can probably get into a program that will let you start as a substitute almost immediately. Check at the school or district office.

Health care. Hospitals actively recruit midlife career changers. You do not have to be a doctor or a nurse. In many cases you can train while you work for pay and benefits as a lab assistant or in areas like music or art therapy, or radiology.

Nonprofits. There are nearly 2 million nonprofits in the U.S.; they make up a fast-growing sector that offers lots of paid (as well as volunteer) positions. For a look at what jobs are available, go to bridgestar.org.

Government. Civil service jobs are available in every state, and many of those jobs offer good benefits and flexible schedules. Start your search at usajobs.opm.gov.

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