For many aging Americans, traditional ideas of retirement are changing. On March 16, the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona hosted a funders forum with Chris Farrell, author of “Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community and the Good Life” (Bloomsbury Press). Speaking to an audience of approximately 70 JCF fund holders, Farrell outlined changes occurring now and what they mean for current and future generations.
With people living longer than previous generations, the workforce is changing. “The baby boom generation is getting older and living longer,” says Farrell, who also writes at chrisfarrellblog.com. “The average life expectancy is now 79. The idea of retiring to a sunny climate and enjoying years of leisure is kind of like your grandfather’s Oldsmobile. It belongs to a different generation and economy.” Whether “unretirement” is a product of longer lifetimes, financial instability or a desire to be productive, Farrell says that it is having a positive impact on employers and employment.
“The conversation about retirement is moving away from the traditional talk of 401Ks and IRAs, and it’s becoming more about ‘what do I want to do next,’” says Farrell. After working for most of their lives, many baby boomers want to make a difference. According to Farrell, 14 percent of new businesses in 1996 were started by those in the 45- to 64-year-old age group. In 2013, that number was up to 23 percent. Citing the artist Henri Matisse as an example of someone who was most creative at the end of his life, Farrell believes seniors have a lot to give to their employers.
Waiting until age 70 to claim Social Security can have a significant impact on benefits, and may lead some to work longer. “Seniors don’t have to focus on reinventing themselves,” says Farrell. “They can tap into existing skills. They don’t need to make the same income, they just need to make some income.” While stereotypes can be a barrier for seniors in the workplace, Farrell believes that there is an immense benefit to employing older workers. “Older employees may feel less restrictions with age, and can be more creative. These baby boomers are the experiment right now, but the beneficiaries are those in their 20s.”
Farrell refutes the argument that employing workers longer takes jobs away from younger people. “When women wanted to enter the workforce, people said they would take jobs away from men. That didn’t happen. We just got a more robust workforce, and it’s the same with seniors,” says Farrell. That statement resonated with JCF Program Committee Chair Andra Karnofsky and event attendee Nancy Koff. “I was glad to hear Chris Farrell use the women’s movement as an analogy, because it makes sense,” says Koff. “Having more people in the workforce longer makes it more acceptable,” says Karnofsky.
After several years on hiatus, the JCF Legacy Development Committee and staff brought back the funders forum events as a way to educate and thank their donors. “We had to stop the event for a few years while staff changed and the foundation moved to a new office, but now we can focus on the stewardship and care of the funders,” says Stuart Shatken, president of the board of trustees. The Foundation hopes to hold two funders forums a year. For more information, contact Robyn Schwager, JCF legacy officer, at 577-0388 or robyn@jcf tucson.org.
Laura Wilson Etter is a freelance journalist, grant writer and artist in Tucson.