For years, the surge of nearly 80 million Baby Boomers into the second half of life has been described as a great gray wave, moving inexorably forward, building in size and momentum with every passing day.
"We have a Category 5 financial hurricane on the horizon," Terry Savage announced breathlessly on the financial website wwwTheStreet.com, "with barely Category 3 financial preparation on the part of individuals and the government to deal with this oncoming disaster." A USA Today headline proclaims the aging of the boomers a "fiscal hurricane."
Then, seemingly overnight, a new norm emerged. Social Security, corporate pensions, and Medicare all played an important role in establishing the financial underpinnings for the retired, while employers and policymakers worked overtime to usher older workers out of the labor force. It took a shift in thinking that equated retirement with leisure, and it took brilliant social invention. Rather than dreading retirement, they rushed toward it, as early as possible. The push became a pull. The change was so complete that things seemed to have always been that way, and it remained thus for half a century.
Now a new combination of forces is impelling change. The necessity today is to encourage people to continue to work in ways that truly use their talents to support the economy as well as themselves. It is essential that those who have a strong need and desire to work in this new way have every chance to realize that objective and every opportunity to use their accumulated human and social capital in areas where it matters most....demonstrating the potential of an encore career.
"People aren't ready for retirement at fifty-two or fifty-three years old (IBM's average retirement age)," says Stan Litow, president of the IBM International Foundation and a former deputy superintendent of New York City schools. "People want to use the opportunity of a second career to do something that is meaningful."
To be sure, there are still not enough encore career opportunities for all the people who will want them. But thousands of aging boomers are not waiting for a job posting to tackle tough social challenges. By identifying and implementing an innovative solution to a problem, they are also creating their own career opportunities.