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A bounty of post-retirement jobs

We know now that the vast majority of American baby boomers plan to keep working at least part-time in retirement, both to remain active and to make money. Numerous surveys on this topic tell us the same thing.

But what exactly do baby boomers want to do?

A new study has taken a look at that question and the refreshing answer is that most Baby Boomers - and half of Americans ages 50 to 70 - want jobs that contribute to the greater good, both now and in retirement.

At the same time, people in this age group, as well they should, want to get paid for their efforts. But they are realists, too, recognizing that finding the work they want won’t always be easy.

“The great encouraging finding of the study is that in fact a significant portion of the population is looking to do the kind of work that society needs,” said Marc Freedman, president of Civic Ventures, a not-for-profit think tank.

Civic Ventures sponsored this “New Face of Work Survey” with the MetLife Foundation, created by the insurance and financial services firm in 1976 to support educational, health, civic and cultural organizations.

This survey of 1,000 Americans, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, is the first that we know of to ask those in their 50s, leading-age baby boomers, and 60s, so-called pre-boomers, what type of work they aspire to, what they want to accomplish through this work, and why they want to do it.

Among the results:

  • Baby boomers, often maligned as self-centered, are ahead of the curve: 58 percent of those age 50 to 59 are interested in “good work” jobs, including education and social services.
  • By a solid majority, the Americans surveyed want jobs that are about people, purpose and community. For example, 59 percent say staying involved with other people is very important in attracting them to a job in retirement, and 57 percent say it is very important that the job give them a sense of purpose.
  • More specifically, among those planning to work in retirement, 78 percent are interested in working to help the poor, the elderly and other people in need, the top choice.
  • But wishes and reality are two different things. Just 12 percent think it will be “very easy” to find the work they want. As an incentive, 60 percent strongly support giving a tax credit to older Americans who work in schools or social services.

“The generation of activists in the 1960s - a generation that includes the older baby boomers - now want to be activists in the next 20 to 30 years of their lives,” said Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, commenting on the survey results. While these aging Americans represent a source of talent for community organizations, “these are not people who want just to stuff envelopes - as volunteers in community organizations - or deliver flowers in hospitals,” Kanter said.
And their desire for meaningful and paid work will challenge not-for-profit organizations to find places for them in leadership positions while also accommodating the flexible work schedule most people want at this stage in their lives, Kanter said.

“This research emphasizes and reinforces the notion that Baby Boomers are not going to just sit back and put their feet up in retirement,” said Evans Witt, CEO of Princeton Survey Research Associates. “Americans age 50 to 70 are ready for careers in service, giving back to their community. But this is not to suggest that people in this group think it is going to be easy.”

To help, Civic Ventures, www.civicventures.org, has posted a free 16-page guide online designed to help Boomers prepare about new careers - whether full- or part-time - in the second half of life. The guide is written by Ellen Freudenheim, author of “Looking Forward: An Optimist’s Guide to Retirement,” a retirement lifestyle book we reviewed and recommended in this column in January.