By Vicki Brown
Baby Boomers — Americans born between 1946 and 1964 — are extending their working careers, and many are turning to what has been dubbed “encore careers.”
Boomer numbers vary, with estimates from 65 million to 76.4 million in 2012. Some 76 million babies were born in the period, with about 11 million dying by 2012. An influx of immigrants that began in 1965 boosted Boomer ranks.
The first wave of Boomers reached 65 in 2011, and the last will hit that milestone on Dec. 31, 2029. As the largest generation born in U.S. history, baby boomers impact all aspects of society, including the church.
A Gallup Poll in late 2013 noted nearly half the Boomer population plans to remain in the workforce until age 66 or later, with 10 percent saying they will not retire. In contrast, the average retirement age now is 61.
The poll suggests Baby Boomers are known for their “hard-charging” work ethic, which is a factor that might keep some in their careers for a longer period, especially if the job significantly engages them.
Economic factors, particularly the stock market downturn in 2007-2008, hit retirees and those about to retire hard. Many had to return to the workforce or had to delay retirement plans.
“The reality that retirement income can be painfully reduced drives continued engagement with work for many,” noted Dennis Myers, a gerontology expert in Baylor University’s School of Social Work.
The Gallup Poll also pointed out many Boomers are forced to work longer than they intend because they save too little while working, have garnered too much debt and may be relying too heavily on Social Security.
Myers also pointed out today’s longer average lifespan adds other concerns as adults age. As people edge nearer to retirement, healthcare costs, particularly long-term care expenses, may become more prominent.
Baby Boomers also often need to assist their parents and their children with financial and other resources. The “sandwich generation” may have to stretch already stressed resources across all three generations. That stretch is a factor that may hold mature adults in their careers.
Boomers also are choosing second careers as a means to minister. They are translating their skills and experience into new jobs — often as entrepreneurs — to affect social change. Organizations such as Encore.org — formerly Civic Ventures — provide information, resources and some monetary awards to help mature adults make career changes for social good.
For example, some adults seek additional education to leave an engineering or banking position to become a schoolteacher in an economically depressed neighborhood.
“Significant numbers of older Boomers are seeking employment in careers that allow them to express a desire to make a difference in the world — an imperative well suited for the youth of the 1960s,” Myers said.
Switching careers, rather than retiring, helps some Boomers bridge the gap between their desire to make a social difference and to meet their economic needs.
But Myers believes the trend toward later retirement likely would not impact those who have made congregational service a habit.
“These members have always factored church involvement into their pattern of time allocation,” he said.