The oldest baby boomers start turning 65 in January. For the next two decades, roughly 10,000 Americans will be getting their
The largest generation's symbolic milepost has sparked predictable newspaper feature stories and polls about how boomers are feeling about the big six-five. Take your pick among the findings--boomers are satisfied with their lives (
Why is 65 our official senior moment? Mainly because it was adopted as the official retirement age when
If the largest generation in American history can look forward to a couple more decades of usefulness and engagement, what will they do with those years? I posed this question recently to
Freedman is the CEO of
Freedman advocates continued participation in the labor force by older people who need and want to keep working. Labor force participation generates economic growth, and can contribute to national deficit reduction. There's even evidence that working longer could extend the solvency of the
But don't count Freedman among those who argue for a mandated higher
"I think what we need to do is focus on those who voluntarily are going to work longer--not necessarily those who don't want to, but have to," he says. "Rather than try raise the retirement age or coerce someone who doesn't want to work longer, let's help those who are already determined to go in that direction get from aspiration to action."
Freedman urges creation of public policies and programs that can help with these critical life transitions. "Right now, the only transition we do a decent job on is the one young people make from adolescent to adulthood. At this later juncture, it's a do-it-yourself process--you're on your own.
"People are hungry for help with this. What we need are new pathways for people in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Let's meet them halfway with additional education, internships or service projects. Let's make it easier for this group to do what they want to do--and what we need them to do as a society."
Expect to hear more from Freedman on how to make these transitions easier when his book is published in the spring, but here are some of the key ideas:
Education: Our higher education system offers undergraduate training for 18-to-25-year -olds and lifelong learning for those who are over 70 and truly retired. "A school for the second half of life has not been developed yet," Freedman says. "It would be tailored for those who have another phase of their working lives yet to come."
Freedman sees community colleges as the best candidates to offer this new encore career pathway, since they already offer career training, can offer affordable classes and are well-connected to local labor markets and employers.
Financing transitions. Freedman wants to re-think the way retirement assets are used by splitting savings into two buckets--one for lifetime security and the other invested to produce income that can help pay for a mid-life career transition. Some people already are using 529 education accounts and Roth IRAs for this purpose, but
Volunteering as a pathway. The Serve America Act of 2009 funded a dramatic expansion of public service programs, and it envisioned national service "encore fellowships" to help people transition to public service in the non-profit sector, but the fellowships haven't yet been funded. Some corporations are adding encore career programs, and some community colleges are starting programs. Freedman still hopes the fellowship program will be funded and expanded.
Does the push for encore careers make practical sense in a period of high unemployment and scarce jobs? Freedman argues that the new life stage he envisions involves "a long-term structural change in the shape of our lives, and it will include upturns and downturns in the economy.
"And it's not a zero-sum game of competition between the old and young for jobs. When we develop the new concept of this period of life and work, it's something we're doing not just for people at this juncture now, but for those who will live even longer later on."
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Personal Finance - As Boomers Start Turning 65, the Big Question is, 'What's Next?'
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