Will Boomers Retire?

Most Jewish Baby Boomers See Retirement as Time for Work and Service, not Rest; But Organizations Serving Ethnic or Religious Communities Are Unprepared To Tap This Potentially Huge Influx of Talent and Experience

Public service organizations have an unprecedented opportunity to harness the experience and expertise of Baby Boomers, as great numbers envision themselves working in paid or voluntary public service positions between the age of 60 and 80, according to a study by researchers at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.

But the just-completed report, entitled “Baby Boomers, Public Service, and Minority Communities,” also finds that there is scant understanding of this impending influx of aging Americans into the labor force – or of what ethnic and religious communities and voluntary institutions can do to mobilize, train, and absorb them.

The findings also point to a challenge for the public service organizations oriented to specific ethnic or religious groups. That’s because many Baby Boomers surveyed by the researchers indicated a willingness to look outside their own religious or ethnic communities for ways to stay active through paid or volunteer opportunities. As a result, these organizations and their communities are at risk of forgoing the benefit of Baby Boomer talent and leadership in the coming years.

The study focuses on Baby Boomers in the Jewish community in particular, and is based principally on a nationwide survey of 34 metropolitan Jewish communities conducted in July, 2009. The survey elicited the attitudes of more than 6,500 individual respondents born between 1946 and 1964 about their future plans for public service and civic engagement.

The researchers also conducted seven focus group discussions in different regions of the country.

Among the findings:

  • Just 7 percent of Jewish Baby Boomers, ages 44 to 62, see retirement as a time to “take it easy.”
  • Even so, only a limited number said they viewed a position in public service as a way to express their Jewish identity during their so-called retirement years. “Jewish Baby Boomers seeking meaning may not look to the Jewish community,” the report states.
  • One-third were uncertain of their plans for age 60 and beyond. “Baby Boomers may have spoken with financial planners and insurance agents, but Baby Boomers seem not to have focused on growing old, and there are few settings in which such conversations take place,” according to the report.
  • More than 80 percent of respondents expressed interest, to varying degrees, in working in a public service position, though most ascribed the highest value to paid positions.
  • The two most commonly offered reasons for engaging in the labor force were the need to maintain fringe benefits and some income and the desire to stay creative, active and productive.

The report was written by David M. Elcott, PhD, of the Research Center for Leadership in Action, and prepared in concert with the Berman Jewish Policy Archive, the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU, and the nonprofit Civic Ventures, Inc.

Dr. Elcott writes, “Baby Boomers represent the largest, wealthiest and best educated generational cohort in the history of the United States. In each stage of their lives, Baby Boomers have placed great demands on the institutional structures and on the norms and values of America. There is every reason to assume that as they age, this influence will continue and their interests will need to be addressed.

“Finding pathways that will bring Baby Boomers into communal institutional life may be a pre-requisite for minority communities to flourish in the United States in the coming years. This certainly would seem to be true for the Jewish community, where almost half of the active adult population is Baby Boomers. Addressing the question of how best to engage Baby Boomers is urgent,” according to Dr. Elcott.

image courtesy Indiana Alumni Magazine