The Optimistic Futurist: Retiring ‘Boomers’ an untapped talent pool

  • Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2013 12:11 a.m.
Francis P. Koster
Francis P. Koster

A funny thing happened back in the late 1940s. Lots of young women got pregnant. Some point to more than 13 million servicemen coming home to their lonely girlfriends. Guess what happened over the next few years.

Births went from 2.5 million in 1940 to 3.5 million in 1950.


As little brothers and sisters were born, annual births hit 4 million in 1954 and stayed above 4 million until 1965, when births finally dropped back to 3.7 million. Thus were created the “boomers.”

Fast forward to today. As they approach their mid-60s, those born in the 1950s are now stepping away from full-time paid employment, presenting a major opportunity.

The boomers’ age group is very unlike previous generations.

Because of better health care and the existence of Medicare, the average 50-year-old today will live six years longer now than they would have in 1950. And they are much better educated.

In 1950, only one in four U.S. citizens over 25 had a high school diploma, and only one in 20 had a college degree. Today, 63 years later, more than half of those in that age group have a high school diploma, and one in three have at least one college degree. Many of these will continue their education throughout their careers. What an outstanding success story for our country!

Among those hitting 65 this year, around one in 10 already have a master’s, professional or doctorate degree; one in 10 already have a college degree; one in four already have some college; and one third already have a high school diploma. Their younger brothers and sisters will arrive even more educated and experienced. If you graduate from high school, you are likely to live seven years longer than someone who doesn’t, and if you get a college degree, you are likely to have an additional two years of life beyond the average high school graduate. These well-educated, no-longer-full-time employed will be around for quite a while.

Loneliness is is a health hazard. People with active social connections add even more years. One study compared the death rates of older altruistic volunteers to same-aged non-volunteers and found that the volunteers lived appreciably longer — on top of the gains realized from education!

Every single day in 2012, we had somewhere around 10,000 of these well-educated boomers hit their 65th birthday and approach a new stage of life. These people are an incredible resource because retirement no longer equals old age.

At the same time, we have a host of social problems. In 2009, 41 percent of all babies born in the United States were born to unwed mothers — resulting in a large percent of children with no male role models. Nearly 40 percent of all fourth-graders in this country cannot read at grade level, and this number rises to 60 percent for children coming from poor families.

I could go on and on with statistics like this. Our communities are crying out for seasoned leadership in efforts ranging from public safety to environmental protection.

Contributing to solving these problems and many others can be a source of joy, inspiration and longer life for our newly arriving seasoned reinforcements.

Back in the 1940s, talented mature leaders were recruited to the war effort and accepted a dollar a year in salary while holding very high positions in the White House and elsewhere. Their children can now do the same thing if room is made for them, and if leadership will think big enough.

As the credentials of the volunteer pool have improved, the organizations that use volunteers may need to rethink the assignments they offer. I kept hearing of highly trained people becoming volunteers and asked to be greeters or drivers, when their skills could have been much better used elsewhere.

A number of national resources exist to help both retirees and local efforts through this transition. The Senior Corps has a large library of resources on how to recruit, retain and maximize the contribution of our newly arrived talent pool. You can find them at www.Nationalservice.gov. Civic Ventures (www.civicventures.org) has books and other materials to help both local governments and other organizations create meaningful roles. Another good resource is a book called “The Encore Careers handbook,” by Marci Alboher.

You can help by introducing loved ones who are underutilized and bored to organizations that can, and will, fully use their talents. You will be building your own positive future at the same time.

Francis P. Koster lives in Kannapolis. His “Optimistic Futurist” column appears every other Sunday. For more information, visit www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org.


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