At one time, the end of middle age signaled the start of retirement and old age. No longer, says Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, a
-based think tank focused on employment and social purpose, particularly as they apply to the baby boomer generation.
"Retirement is fast becoming a word without meaning, as so many boomers stop working for a period of time, then go back to work - in new ways, on new terms and to new ends," says Freedman, author of "The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife." "Thirty year retirements aren't sustainable or desirable for the vast majority of us.
While many at or near retirement age want to continue working, many more have no choice but to stay employed, and may need assistance to do so.
Sobering statistics bear out the fact that older people need help in the workplace, says Grace Jenkins, president and CEO of National Able Network, a 35-year-old Chicago-based organization that helps older adults stay in or return to employment by providing them job training and job placements.
More than 2 million of those seeking work nationwide are older than 55, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jenkins says. Of those, 84 percent want full-time work. Workers laid off after age 55 are more likely to work at lower income levels in the next job. For instance, men between 50 and 61 take a 20 percent wage cut, those 62 or older a 36 percent cut. By contrast, workers 25 to 34 absorb just an average 1.5 percent wage loss, Jenkins says.
In other words, many workers are old enough to face discrimination in the workplace, but not old enough to leverage a number of federal benefit programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, Jenkins says.
"For the most part, older workers need to work," she adds. "The retirement age is creeping upward. Older people today tend to be healthier, traditional employer-sponsored pension and retiree health plans are going away, and there's a Social Security benefit to working to a later age."
For all these reasons and others, about 30 percent of those 65 to 69 are in the labor force in the U.S., "and that's a significant population," Jenkins adds.
National Able Network is among organizations that can help older people get trained or retrained to re-enter the workforce. It provides service to
residents, and has 35 programs helping clients re-enter or advance in the workforce, Jenkins says.
Its flagship program places people 55-plus, who are near the poverty level, in paid jobs under a federal program called Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), Jenkins says. "They in turn provide a public service, working in either a public organization like a library, school, hospital, food pantry or shelter, or an organization like our own. They work 20 hours a week. In the balance of time, we provide training in computer literacy, workplace technology and workplace behaviors."
National Able Network clients continue to receive training throughout the few months to four years they're in SCSEP. Just under half transition to unsubsidized employment they wouldn't have gained otherwise.
Another area organization helping older adults gain employment is
-based AgeOptions, one of 13 area agencies on aging in Illinois.
AgeOptions plans, coordinates and advocates for services for older adults in suburban Cook County, says manager of community and agency relations Robert Mapes. Those eligible for AgeOptions services are out of work. They may need work for financial reasons, or want a job because it gives their lives meaning. Many say they face considerable ageism in the job market.
"A lot of the people coming into our program are looking for part-time employment," Mapes says. "It may not be a dramatic shift in careers, but rather a subtle shift where they need to pick up additional skills."
AgeOptions places older job seekers in not-for-profit organizations, as well as government entities, often in jobs like receptionist or data entry, through SCSEP.
While they gain skills training, they are giving back to the community.
Experience and loyalty are two of the traits prized by employers, he adds.
"People in this program come in with a vast amount of experience. I've heard they also have a lower absentee rate than younger people. And I think they're also more loyal, so there's reduced turnover among workers."