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Boomers Want Better Career Choices

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As many as 9 million people ages 44 to 70 already have chosen encore careers, putting their experience to work for the greater good, according to a new MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures study. Another 31 million are interested in joining them, adding to their list of job benefits personal meaning and a connection to something larger than themselves.

With so many Americans crafting alternative futures for themselves, it's clear that a new era of innovation is at hand for employers and policymakers, as well as the bankers, financial advisers, life and career coaches, educators and other service providers eyeing the huge baby boomer market.

Last week, Intel, the giant computer chipmaker, recognized that many of its retirees are not really retiring and became the first company to offer Encore Fellowships to all of its retirement-eligible U.S. employees. The one-year fellowships, which carry a $25,000 stipend and a placement with a high-performing nonprofit organization, provide a stepping stone to a new career that redeploys immense business and technical skills.

The new study, Encore Career Choices: Purpose, Passion and a Paycheck in a Tough Economy, showed that the economic downturn has made financial security a paramount concern.

Among those interested in encore careers, 41 percent say their financial situations have worsened in the past three years. Nearly three in four (73 percent) are concerned they will not have enough income in retirement. Largely as a result, some have tempered their interest in encore careers. One in four of those surveyed rated their interest at eight or higher on a 10-point scale, down from one in three in a similar survey conducted in 2008.

But financial security isn't the only motivation. The survey found that people want more flexibility in work arrangements, the chance to remain vital and active, the ability to use skills in new ways and share them with others, and the opportunity to make a positive impact.

Many of those interested in encore careers appear eager to mix fewer hours of work per week with more years of work in total. Indeed, those currently in encore careers expect to work to 69.1 years on average and those interested in encore careers expect to work nearly as long, to 68.6 years.

The findings demonstrate the appeal of a range of encore career arrangements. For example, an "income bridge" that makes it possible to postpone claiming Social Security and eventually claim a larger monthly check for life was of interest to six in 10 (62 percent) of those interested in encore careers.

And, with job openings scarce, as many as 12 million potential "encore entrepreneurs" are interested in starting their own businesses or nonprofit organizations to both generate income and make a positive social impact.

As tens of millions of Americans in their 40s, 50s and 60s are making their decisions about their next stage of work, so too is America itself. Some issues confronting the country require hard choices and tough tradeoffs. Helping experienced adults enhance their financial security by working for a better future should not be one of them.

David Bank is a vice president at Civic Ventures, a think tank on boomers, work and social purpose.