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New careers after 55 offer challenges, added income

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

As many people are enjoying longer, healthier lives, they are faced with the decision of how to spend their time in retirement.

Most older Americans look forward to their earned leisure time after years in the workplace, but a lot of seniors still have an emotional need to stay productive and some need to augment Social Security or other retirement income.

The time to research retirement possibilities is when you are younger, according to Christine Price, associate professor of gerontology at Southwest Missouri State University. Study the options and plan ahead is her advice.

Price has studied the lives of career women and has found that while women with high-powered jobs enjoy the leisure time afforded by retirement, after the initial excitement wears off they usually want to incorporate some structure into their lives and do something meaningful and constructive.

Although Price's studies have centered primarily on women, she has also learned from research that men often have an even greater need to be productive in later life, since a man's primary focus during the working years is on his job, while women's roles are typically more diverse.

Seeking a post-retirement career may not be as difficult as people think.

More and more employers have become aware of the advantages to having a seasoned employee who believes in the work ethic.

Many seniors have a wide range of knowledge and talents, according to Eric Naegler, president of Senior Recruiters.

Naegler said the first thing he asks an applicant is, "What do you want to do and why?"

Although the application has space for education and skills, Naegler has found most seniors want to do something different than they did their previous careers.

Typically the applicant will choose something related to his or her primary career, but totally different in daily routine.

"The driving force for active elders is activity," Naegler said.

Seniors who are healthy and active usually feel a need to be productive and needed. Although compensation is not top on the list of motivations, the desire to produce additional income is also a factor.

The Senior Community Service Employment Program, sponsored by the AARP and the U.S. Department of Labor, is an agency that answers the needs of seniors who not only desire to work, but need additional income to supplement Social Security benefits.

Although these seniors are driven to the workplace more out of need than desire, most people in the program have reaped the benefits of feeling useful and productive, along with the added income, according to Margie Ingram, project director for the local SCSEP.

Ingram said the program fills two basic needs: 1. the need for additional income and 2. the need to regain a sense of involvement with the community and the mainstream of life generally.

Ingram said more than 30 local agencies and community service entities, such as the Red Cross, the Heart Association and the county courthouse, have found positions for people within the program.

If a senior qualifies for assistance, the salary for these jobs is paid by the SCSEP during training. The agency also places people in the private sector. Many local employers have taken advantage of the pool of available workers to the benefit of both.

"The program helps not only the senior worker, but the agencies and employers they work for," Ingram said.

SCSEP works with people 55 and older and will help place any senior regardless of income level, although to qualify for the program under government guidelines seniors must be below poverty level. This is $8,060 for the single person and $10,850 combined income for a couple.

Women who have never worked outside the home often believe they have nothing to contribute when they come into the program, Ingram said.

But they soon gain experience and confidence as they learn a variety of tasks vital to the agencies that depend on volunteer or government-subsidized help.

Naegler said though his agency deals in temporary placement, the majority of his workers go on to permanent jobs with the companies where he finds them positions.

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