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Economic downturn has many reconsidering retirement plans

When times get tough, people put off retirement. Prices for gas and electricity are up, causing a spike in the cost of food and other necessities. And meanwhile, interest rates on savings are down. That has a particularly large impact on retirees or people getting ready to retire.

A recent AARP poll about the economy showed that 16% of workers age 45 and older decided to postpone plans to retire because of current economic conditions.

The trend for older workers to remain in the workforce will pick up speed as the Baby Boomers come of retirement age, said Marion Dunn Tutor, Ph.D., director of the Division of Aging and Adult Services, Mississippi Department of Human Services.

“Baby Boomers, or people born between 1946 and 1964, represent over one quarter of the U.S. population,” Tutor said. “For the first time in history, people age 65 and older will soon outnumber children under age five. They will remain on the job, take new jobs, go back to school for retraining, start new careers and become entrepreneurs in late life. You name it.”

As life expectancy increases and people are staying healthy longer, keeping active and engaged is increasingly important. Unless a person has a chronic disease, Baby Boomers will resist mandatory retirement.

“And why shouldn’t they?” Tutor said. “If you are healthy and want to continue to work, there are few obstacles. In fact, with age, the brain is an experienced organ with accumulated expert knowledge. Don’t challenge a 75-year-old to a crossword puzzle. Brain function holds up or improves with age. The older person is able to focus and resist distractions (called selective attention) and solves problems from past solutions (called cognitive templates). People who are experienced on the job find solutions through accumulated experience.”

Tutor said great examples of this are professions in which one must synthesize information such as lawyers who quickly “get to the meat of a case,” or researchers who find results by “intuiting data.”

And, older people are retiring into new careers every day.

“Learning is a lifelong experience and as we have seen with nontraditional student populations rising in our colleges and universities, older people are seeking new knowledge,” Tutor said.

Her advice for older people re-entering the workforce is find what you love, learn all you can about it and do it. When applying for a job, focus on the positive aspects of aging.
Tutor said older workers have great opportunities to release their creativity. They have reared their family and it’s the time of their life to expand their horizons.

The Area Agency on Aging (1-800-948-3090) has job training opportunities for lower-income people wishing to enter or re-enter the workforce. The Senior Community Service Employment Program assists with employability skills development and on-the- job training.

If it is engagement that is most important, and a paycheck isn’t the primary concern, volunteer work may be very rewarding. Tutor said many older people are discovering they are able to make significant contributions in education, healthcare, non-profit, government and other sectors that are essential to the nation’s well being.

“Volunteerism or a part-time position in a non-profit or community organization engages one in meaningful service,” Tutor said. “Older people are a valuable resource for addressing social issues such as child and adult literacy.

There are many advantages to businesses hiring older workers who are reliability and experienced. Employers often note that older workers have a positive work ethic. Most employers are looking for workers who can be trained to do the job and then work independently.

“Because older workers are practiced at accomplishing objectives, businesses spend fewer assets supervising them,” Tutor said. “Experienced employees know how to take on a project, think it through, complete tasks and accomplish the goal. Older workers have learned to listen to others, work in groups and direct people. Job expertise and developed management skills are applied in job performance.”

And, they come to work on time.

Many businesses are being proactive encouraging older workers to remain on the job. Businesses are not prepared for the shortages in labor, particularly in mid- and high-level management, so there is a strong business case for retaining and recruiting older workers.

“U.S. businesses are re-thinking how to meet the looming worker shortages with new ideas such as flexible work options including shorter work weeks, working from home and compressed work schedules,” Tutor said. “Business is attracting older workers to remain employed by offering a variety of insurance options and programs. Some industries offer retired employees flexible retirement programs that allow employees to continue working a few hours a week after they have ‘retired.’”

Another developing initiative is continuing education programs that help older people finance school to sharpen their work skills. A proposed change in the tax code would allow workers to save for their own education through “Lifelong Learning Accounts” similar to 401(k) plans.

Businesses that want to keep experienced workers are considering the needs of their employees’ dependent care duties.

“Businesses are catering to the family care giving responsibilities of employees who are caregivers, offering time off for parental care responsibilities and grandparent child care,” Tutor said. “Innovations include paying for or sponsoring adult day care for parental oversight during the work day.”

Allowing employees to work at home is also one way to attract and retain older workers. And reduction in the compulsory attendance at meetings and decreasing travel requirements through utilization of electronic conferencing capabilities are gaining favor with businesses and older workers.

“Finally, older workers are ready to assist younger workers in a mentoring mode to help achieve company goals and promote younger workers career goals,” Tutor said.
Bettye Burgess, director, Area Agency on Aging for Central Mississippi, said more older people are continuing to work and not just because they want a part-time job just to supplement their income.

“Many of them, surprisingly, find that if they don’t have hobbies that they really like to do in retirement, they have the need to do something just to keep their intellect working,” Burgess said. “We are seeing more people tend to want at least 20 hours per week. You can draw Social Security and continue to work. You can earn as much as you want and receive full Social Security benefits.”

Older workers are dependable, know their responsibilities and want to work. Burgess said they are loyal, productive and they blend in very well with younger employees.

“It is a tremendous mix,” said Burgess, who has worked for the Area Agency on Aging for 34 years. “And many of them have a background where they have worked in various capacities, not just minimum wage jobs, but jobs with tremendous responsibilities. They have a lot to offer.”

There are programs in the state to help older people become more employable.

Shelly Battista, senior AIDES program coordinator for the South Mississippi Planning and Development District, said the Senior Community Service Employment Program provides community service jobs to seniors who are looking for employment. The minimum wage jobs are for 20 hours per week.

“They learn new skills or brush up on old skills to help them become more employable,” Battista said. “Sometimes it is easier to get a job if you already have a job. Some seniors come to our program because they are bored and want to get out of the house. But for many seniors, however, it is because they cannot survive on Social Security.”

Currently 140 seniors from 15 southern Mississippi counties are training in the community service assignment while looking for jobs. Battista said the emphasis is looking for jobs. The intent of the program is for participants to transfer into unsubsidized employment .

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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