Age of 'rewirement'

Retirees eschew golf course and poolside for pursuits more meaningful to them and others

July 28, 2008|By Tanika White | Tanika White,Sun Reporter

When he started at Maryland State College in 1962, Daniel M. Maddox envisioned a career working with young people, preferably in physical education.

But as often happens, life got in the way and Maddox decided he needed a steady paycheck more than a college degree. So at 20, he took a job at General Motors and worked there almost 40 years.

Now that he's retired at 63, Maddox has renewed his interest in helping young people by volunteering during the school year at Tench Tilghman Elementary School as a part of Experience Corps, a Civic Ventures program that places people 55 and older in urban classrooms.

Increasingly, retirees such as Maddox find that after long, successful careers in one arena, the prospect of sitting around and doing nothing - or of spending days babysitting, golfing or finding other leisure activities - has little appeal. Instead, older adults are trying to keep busy in ways that have meaning and value.

Maddox has done so, without giving up a steady income: Experience Corps provides a stipend for the hours he spends mentoring and tutoring.

"The kids bring a lot of issues to school. You can see it in them; you can feel it in them," said Maddox, who lives in Northeast Baltimore. "If you have any love for a child, you can't just sit around and do nothing. You try to help them."

The issue will be increasingly important as the baby boom generation moves into retirement. Currently, 32 million Americans are receiving Social Security retirement benefits, and the population over 65 will reach 63 million by 2025, according to the Michigan Retirement Research Center.

Meanwhile, half of Americans age 50 to 70 still want to do work that assists others and gives them a sense of purpose, according to a 2005 survey by the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a think tank that deals with older workers.

Some years ago, AARP, the nation's largest membership organization for people over the age of 50, dropped the "retired persons" from its own name, because so many of its members continued to work past traditional retirement age.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of active workers over 65 will increase by more than 80 percent and account for 6.1 percent of the total labor force, compared to just 3.6 percent in 2006.

Many now refer to their post-career years as "rewiring," rather than retiring. The forces behind that change are financial and psychological.

"As we all live longer, people find that living on a retirement income, on pensions and social security just doesn't support everything that they hoped their lifestyle to be," said John Gomperts, president of Civic Ventures and CEO of Experience Corps. "And secondly, and probably more profoundly, there is a need as we grow older to do that which has meaning, those things that have purpose, that leave a legacy, something larger than yourself."

Charlie Conklin knows that feeling well. After 36 years at Bethlehem Steel, the manager found himself drawn to environmental issues. He left the Sparrows Point plant in 1995, but instead of making a beeline for the golf course, he headed straight for tree-plantings and other conservation efforts.

"I have an interest in providing for your children and mine, for future generations, to be able to pass along what we have been so blessed with," said Conklin, 71, who volunteers with many organizations, including the Baltimore County Department of Aging's Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. "I probably feel a greater sense of urgency now than all those years I was working for Bethlehem Steel and was being held accountable for my salary."

To meet the needs of this new generation of seniors, businesses and post-career programs have sprung up locally and around the country.

Arnold J. Eppel, director of Baltimore County's Department of Aging, said his office is conducting several workshops in the next few months to help seniors navigate a new world of work - and teach potential employers how to attract talented retirees.

One such workshop, Success to Significance, invites nonprofits such as Goodwill, United Way, Maryland Food Bank and Meals on Wheels to investigate how Baby Boomers and recent retirees can fit into their organizations. The county also is holding a "re-hirement" fair Oct. 30 and a volunteer fair the day before.

"Your typical Baby Boomer is leaving a management position and is looking for opportunities to engage, but they don't want to put stamps on envelopes," Eppel said. "I understand that. I'm 52 and I'm studying for my master's degree in geriatric services. This is a real change for a lot of people. You know how it is. At 25 you're saying, 'I can't wait to retire.' Now that I'm 52, I can't imagine retiring. I don't know what I'd do all day long."

Companies such as SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), Experience Corps and ReServe all work to bring together groups or people who want help with older adults willing to provide it.

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