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Purpose and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money, and Happiness in the Second Half of Life Hardcover – February 5, 2019

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About the Author

Chris Farrell is considered a leading expert on the trend toward working longer in the second half of life. He writes a biweekly column for Next Avenue, an online PBS magazine for the 50+ demographic, and hosts a Minnesota Public Radio program, Conversations on the Creative Economy, which is now entering its fifth season. He speaks across the country on the topic of unretirement.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Purpose and a Paycheck

Finding Meaning, Money, and Happiness in the Second Half of Life

By Chris Farrell

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2019 Chris Farrell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8144-3961-6


1 The Frontier of Experienced Workers and 50-Plus Entrepreneurs, 1,
2 The Myth of Creative Decline, 39,
3 The Economics of Optimism, 67,
4 What about the Robots? Not., 85,
5 The Returns to Work, 99,
6 The Rise of 50-Plus Entrepreneurship, 115,
7 Doing Well by Doing Good, 143,
8 Management (Increasingly) Embraces Experienced Workers, 157,
9 Taking Lifelong Learning Seriously, 167,
10 The Personal Finances of Aging — Don't Despair, 181,
11 Gains from a Multigenerational Society, 197,
12 Reimagining the Common Good, 215,
Epilogue To Have a Go, 237,
Acknowledgments, 245,
Endnotes, 249,
Index, 269,


The Frontier of Experienced Workers and 50-Plus Entrepreneurs

This is not a moment, it's the movement.

— ALEXANDER HAMILTON (Lin-Manuel Miranda)

The association of old age with inevitable decline runs deep. To carry on with work — or indeed with anything more demanding than afternoon lectures, a movie, and an early dinner — during the traditional retirement years is cute at best and depressing at worst.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith called these commonplace reactions — surprise laced with condescending admiration or misplaced concern — the "Still Syndrome."

"The Still Syndrome is the design by which the young or the less old daily assail the old. 'Are you still well?' 'Are you still working?' 'I see that you are still taking exercise.' 'Still having a drink?' As a compulsive literatus I am subject to my own special assault, 'I see you are still writing.' 'Your writing still seems pretty good to me.' The most dramatic general expression came from a friend I hadn't seen for some years: 'I can hardly believe you're still alive!'"

Galbraith wrote the essay "Notes on Aging" when he was 90 years old. He stayed active and engaged until he died seven years later.

No one would think "decline" on meeting Luanne Mullin, age 71. Mullin has assembled a portfolio of activities in recent years, some paying gigs and others volunteer jobs. "Life is full," she says, laughing.

That's an understatement. Among her jobs with incomes are project manager for a nonprofit organization in Marin County, California, that focuses on older adults and the disabled; her own coaching business and workshops; and acting gigs in the backgrounds of television and movies. (She was one of the people running down San Francisco's Russian Hill as the building behind crumbled during the disaster film San Andreas.)

Mullin has a portfolio of volunteer ventures, too. She's a volunteer leader for the mature student organization at the College of Marin, focusing on lifelong learning. She helps produce a local documentary film series. She organizes salons bringing people together to discuss critical topics. "I do feel lucky," she says. "I am in the right place and at the right time to do a lot of really neat things."

I wasn't surprised to learn that Mullin had created a full portfolio combining purpose and a paycheck. That seems to be the story of her life.

We first met in 2013 on the Mission Bay campus of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The area was once dominated by shipyards and industrial businesses. The university and biotech offices now hold sway. Mullin was a mediator and project manager on campus. She was almost done with her job overseeing the construction of an 8,000-square-foot laboratory for university scientists when we got together.

Her career had been an eclectic mix of jobs and occupations. She moved with the grace of the dancer she had been early in her career. She later became head of marketing for a dance company, opened her own theater company in Boston, and ran a recording studio in San Francisco.

As her time at UCSF was coming to an end, she was looking for a new adventure, a different challenge. "OK, what's my next career?" she wondered. "What do I want to do that's fulfilling?"

The Frontier of Experienced Workers and 50-Plus Entrepreneurs © 3 Like many people working in what is still considered the traditional retirement years, Mullin needs to work for an income and wants to work for engagement. Not one reason or the other. Both purpose and a paycheck. Earning an income helps pay the bills.

"I need a paycheck. I will always need a paycheck," she says. "I'm OK with that. A paycheck puts a roof over my head and shows that I am needed, wanted, and worth paying."

We've talked several times since our first meeting, including at an Aging in America conference held in downtown San Francisco in 2018. She enjoys her work and volunteer activities. They often involve solving problems and designing solutions. Her work keeps her mentally sharp and physically active. Paid work and volunteering are how she stays connected to a wide circle of friends, colleagues, and clients. "Many of us are looking for purpose," she says.

Mullin is still searching for her calling. She believes there is more for her to accomplish, a commitment that will make a bigger difference to her sense of self and to her community. She hasn't found her calling yet. She continues to experiment and test new paths. "I keep thinking I will find one big thing that I am passionate about and give my life to it," she says. "I don't know what it is. Maybe doing all these things will lead me to that one thing."

Mullin has plenty of company in her entrepreneurial quest. Stories like hers are increasingly common with the aging of the population. The demographics of aging ranks as one of the most significant long-term forces shaping the U.S. economy and society, alongside globalization, automation, and climate change.

The numbers are striking. The U.S. Census Bureau forecasts that those individuals 65 years and older will account for more than 21 percent of the U.S. population — about 73 million — in 2030. The comparable figures in 2016 were 15 percent, or some 49 million. Put somewhat differently, roughly 10,000 baby boomers — the generation born between 1946 and 1964 — are celebrating their 65th birthday every day until 2030. That year, the surviving members from the leading edge of the boomer generation will turn 85.

Older Americans are also living longer, on average. Thanks to improvements in sanitation, nutrition, education, and medical care, life expectancy for people reaching age 65 now averages 19.4 years. That's up from 13.9 years in 1950. The biggest impact on the nation's aging comes from Americans having fewer children. The U.S. fertility rate has dropped to record lows. Taken all together, the Census Bureau predicts the number of people over 65 years of age will outnumber children under age 18 by 2035 for the first time in U.S. history.

The combination of an aging population and the Still Syndrome fuels ominous economic forecasts. The typical doom-and-gloom story runs along these lines: Too few young workers will have to support too many dependent elderly. Older Americans will be forced to cut back on spending because they haven't saved enough to maintain their lifestyle. The wellsprings of creativity, innovation, and risk-taking — long linked with youth — will dim with rising numbers of elders. The economy is slipping into a permanent state of slow-growth or secular stagnation at best, and possibly worse.

America's best days are behind it.

Hardly! Think Luanne Mullin and millions more like her throughout the country. The aging of America's population represents a historic moment to create a more inclusive society and vibrant economy. Age is nothing but a data point. Chronological aging tells us little about an individual, let alone society. As the poet Samuel Ullman eloquently observes:

Nobody grows old merely by a number of years.
We grow old by deserting our ideals.
Years may wrinkle the skin,
But to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.

Older Americans are showing plenty of zest for life at work and at home. They aren't doddering life away as antiquated stereotypes and tasteless jokes suggest. The swelling numbers of Americans age 50 and older and their experiments in rethinking and reimagining the second half of life will have a profound impact on everyday life in America. "In coming decades, many forces will shape our economy and our society, but in all likelihood no single factor will have as pervasive an effect as the aging of our population," said Ben Bernanke in a speech when he was still chair of the Federal Reserve Board.

For instance, the future trajectory of housing markets, public transportation networks, and urban design will be shaped by growing numbers of mature adults. The global age-friendly city initiative is encouraging many urban communities to better accommodate an aging population. Specifically, well-connected transportation networks of public transit, ride-sharing apps, and on-demand vans can ease trips among modern elders to work, the grocery store, restaurants, yoga studios, and medical appointments. America's postsecondary education system will eventually abandon its near-exclusive emphasis on educating younger generations and become multigenerational institutions welcoming certificate-seeking and degree-desiring students in their 50s, 60s, and older.

Health care services will shift from a primary emphasis on delivering medical care in hospitals and nursing homes. Instead, comprehensive care will be routinely offered at home and in group settings with an emphasis on improving the quality of everyday life. Even expectations about death and dying are changing as the medical profession grapples with how to help people plan and prepare for the end of life. Just as doulas have become commonplace aiding mothers with birth, so-called death-doulas or palliative care doulas increasingly offer elders companionship toward the end of life.

The transformation this book focuses on is entrepreneurship and work for an aging population. Many adults in the second half of life will start their own business or keep working well into the traditional retirement years. An impressive body of scholarly research suggests that, given the opportunity, people in the second half of life can be as creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial as their younger peers, if not more so. Experienced adults are experimenting with different ways to stay attached to the economy, including self-employment, entrepreneurship, full-time jobs, part-time work, flexible employment, and encore careers.

Here's one indication of the embrace of work: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 1995 and 2016, the share of men ages 65 to 69 in the labor force rose from 28 percent to 38 percent. The comparable figures for women were 18 percent and 30 percent. For men ages 62 to 64, participation rates rose from 44 percent to 57 percent and for women from 31 to 47 percent. Less than full-time employment is popular with some 27 percent of workers 55 and older. The figure rises to 40 percent for workers 65 years and older.

Experienced workers are productive workers. At least that's what the wage data tells us. Wages are one way to measure productivity, and older workers are taking home bigger paychecks than in the past. Inflation-adjusted average monthly earnings of persons age 65 and older were $4,092 in 2015, substantially higher than the comparable figure of $2,276 in 1994, according to the Census Bureau. The pay gains for those in the 55-to-64-year-old age group went from $3,928 in 1994 to $5,557 in 2015.

Here's another critical number with a similar message: The 55-to64-year-old age cohort accounted for 25.5 percent of new entrepreneurs in 2016, up from 14.8 percent in 1996, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unincorporated and incorporated self-employment rate among workers age 65 and older was the highest of any age group. The 65-plus rate of self-employment was more than triple the unincorporated rate and five times the incorporated rate of the 25-to-34-year-old age group. (An unincorporated business is usually a sole proprietor or partnership; an incorporated business or corporation is separate from the business owner with its own legal rights.) Put it this way: The 50-plus population will start more businesses in the years ahead than any other demographic.

The significance of figures like these lies in the underappreciated promise an aging population holds for boosting economic growth and household incomes. America's aging population is an extraordinary moment to celebrate and an opportunity to seize, especially now.

The economy has failed too many families struggling to make ends meet. Middle-class living standards are under assault. Economic insecurity is on the rise. Income inequality is higher than it has been in decades. Dark undercurrents of economic and financial insecurity have fed and reinforced angry political tensions. Concern about the future is spreading, especially among parents worried about the job and career prospects of their children and grandchildren. Drug abuse in parts of the country is leading to an enormous toll of despair and unemployment. One way that Donald Trump beat the odds and propelled himself into the White House in 2016 was by tapping into disturbing wellsprings of gloom and doubt.

This era of widespread pessimism demands bold actions to boost the incomes of the typical worker and revive optimism about the future. The trials of our time call for "big ideas" and "dreaming big again," declares David Leonhardt, opinion columnist at the New York Times. He's right.

Here is a big, grassroots idea that is already making its presence felt: Experienced workers and 50-plus entrepreneurs rethinking and reimagining the second half of life. A new era of broad-based prosperity is within our grasp. Older adults are in the vanguard of inclusiveness by breaking down barriers to staying employed. The fight for purpose and a paycheck is a battle for respect and recognition. The struggle isn't partisan-Democratic or partisan-Republican.

"Perhaps the greatest opportunity of the twenty-first century is to envision and create a society that nurtures longer lives not only for the sake of the older generation, but also for the benefit of all age groups — what I call the Third Demographic Dividend," writes Linda Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. "To get there requires a collective grand act of imagination to create a vision for the potential of longer lives."

Fried is spot on.

Older adults are already exercising their imagination as productive workers and motivated volunteers and engaged entrepreneurs. They're battling against age discrimination, taking actions to remove pernicious stereotypes holding down experienced workers. Older Americans represent an enormous market for goods, services, and experiences (and not only for burial insurance and Life Alert). Many of those products and services will be built and designed by older adults with a flair for understanding the 50-plus market. The widely touted innovative benefits of employing a diverse workforce include tapping into the insights of older workers.

How much growth? Oxford Economics (in a briefing paper prepared for the AARP) forecasts that consumer spending by Americans 50 and older will increase by 58 percent to $4.6 trillion by 2032, compared to a 13 percent rise in spending for people ages 25 to 50. (This calculation excludes health care.) Another Oxford Economics report with consulting firm Accenture estimated that increasing the number of experienced workers could boost U.S. gross domestic product by an additional $442 billion by 2020.

Several factors are coming together and reinforcing one another, bringing new ideas and different expectations about the second half of life from society's fringes to the mainstream. Boomers are better educated than previous generations. They're also healthier, with a sixty-five year old today having the the same risk of mortality or serious illness as those in their mid-50s a generation ago.

The realization is growing that retirement — defined as full-time leisure — may be hazardous to your health. Research sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration suggests that full-time retirement is associated with a 23 to 29 percent increase in difficulties involving mobility and daily activities, an 8 percent increase in illness, and an 11 percent decline in mental health, notes Columbia University's Fried.

Her Columbia University colleague John Rowe, former chair and chief executive officer at the insurance behemoth Aetna, was emphatic about the results at the conference on aging at Columbia University in 2018. "Retirement is bad for you," says Rowe. "It is bad for your brain. It is bad for your health."

The personal finances of delaying full-time retirement are compelling. A paycheck makes it practical to delay filing for Social Security benefits, which are more generous at age 70 than at age 62. The incentives to work longer have increased with the decline in traditional pensions and the rise of 401(k) plans. There was no added pension benefit to continuing to work past the age of plan retirement with traditional pensions. But employees can continue contributing to a 401(k) and similar defined contribution retirement savings accounts so long as they're on the job. Your portfolio compounds longer, and you need to live off your accumulated savings for fewer years.

(Continues...)Excerpted from Purpose and a Paycheck by Chris Farrell. Copyright © 2019 Chris Farrell. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ AMACOM; Special edition (February 5, 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0814439616
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0814439616
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 15.2 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.5 x 1 x 9.25 inches
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Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for Marketplace, American Public Media's nationally syndicated public radio programs. He is economics commentator for Minnesota Public Radio. An award winning journalist, Chris is a regular contributor to PBS Next Avenue and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has written for Bloomberg Businessweek, the New York Times, Kiplinger's and other publications.

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