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Retired baby boomers can help with public service

Resource type: News

New York Newsday |

Original Source BY PAUL ARFIN Paul Arfin is president of Intergenerational Strategies, which is a partner with Dowling College’s Center for Intergenerational Policy and Practice. As millions of baby boomers approach traditional retirement age, many experts are warning that such a massive workforce exodus could lead to dire economic and social consequences. But what if Long Island baby boomers extended their work lives to enter public service during the traditional retirement years? What might be the impact on education? On health care? On the environment? On poverty? On elder care and child care? It could be substantial. A national survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Associates and Civic Ventures this year indicates that 50 percent of those between ages 44 and 70 are interested in moving into jobs in such fields as education, health care, government and the nonprofit sector. Another national survey, conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland, reports more than 70 percent of adults ages 50 and older believe that keeping experienced workers engaged in society – either through continuing work or volunteering – is very important. The Hart survey reveals that boomers already in encore careers are having good experiences. But, income and benefits are important to them, and will very likely become even more important in the years ahead, given the disappearance of traditional pensions, the escalating costs of health care and insurance, and the lack of adequate retirement savings. The migration of young people from Long Island, driven by our high cost of living, gives urgency to the situation. Economists predict that if current trends continue, many Long Island employers could face serious labor shortages and be forced to relocate. But if just 1 percent (6,000) of Long Island baby boomers extended their work lives by five years, working 18 hours per week for 30 weeks a year, their labor would produce more than $416 million worth of services. Policy changes could help those interested in encore careers join those already engaged. For instance, if we were to rethink the recent outrage over the rehiring of retired public employees and end financial penalties for continuing to work while receiving a pension, provide more access to retraining and education programs, and create online resources to help people enter encore careers, we’d go a long way toward facing the challenges before us. In Washington, Reps. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), and Sens. Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.), Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) have introduced the Incentives for Older Workers Act. It would extend the Social Security bonus for recipients who postpone claiming their benefits beyond the “normal” retirement age. While many political observers believe the odds of passage are poor this election year, such a change could mean bigger monthly checks – for life – for those who choose to keep working. According to the Long Island Association, nonprofit organizations in Nassau and Suffolk employ more than 100,000 persons and generate aggregate payrolls exceeding $4.5 billion. They account for 9.1 percent of Long Island employment and almost 8 percent of Long Island payrolls. The nonprofit share of Long Island’s total economic output is a substantial 15.4 percent. The importance of the nonprofit sector in maintaining the Island’s quality of life cannot be overstated. Schools, hospitals, museums, environmental protection groups, religious organizations, and services for children, youth, the elderly and those with disabilities help make Long Island a desirable place to live. So it’s critical that our most valuable resources – our human resources – be tapped to their utmost at a time when there are already reported shortages of nurses, home care workers and nonprofit executives, and shortages of teachers are coming down the pike as boomers retire. Some older adults who want to enter encore careers after successful experiences as managers, supervisors, coordinators and entrepreneurs could fill many of these positions. The Center for Intergenerational Policy and Practice at Dowling College is planning to prepare these people for encore careers in public service. In addition to changes in federal law, initiatives such as the Senior Property Tax Work-off legislation, which has been inching its way through the New York State Legislature for the past three years, would help. Under this legislation, homeowners who volunteer in preapproved public service positions would receive property tax reductions. Perhaps the greatest challenge will be identifying the nonprofits that see this social capital for what it is – an opportunity to assure the continuance of their valuable services, and not a threat to vested self-interests. It would be a shame if they didn’t court these valuable assets aggressively. Because $416 million isn’t hay feed. Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

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Civic Ventures, retirement