Friday, October 05, 2007

Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life

It is impossible to ignore all the gloomy predictions about what will soon happen to the Social Security system in the next two decades. Newspapers, magazines and television news shows are filled with items about the inevitable collapse of the system as the huge baby boom generation leaves the work force and eases its way into a retirement lifestyle largely dependent on monthly Social Security checks. Experts tell us that the system is bound to collapse under the combined weight of a huge increase in the number of beneficiaries and the massive decline in the number of people paying into the system.

Proposed solutions to the problem have generally fallen into two categories, or some combination of the two: increased payroll taxes on those still working and contributing to the system or decreased benefits to those receiving checks. Marc Freedman, in Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life, offers a third possibility. Friedman argues that the system could be saved, requiring no increase in taxes or decreases in benefits, by simply offering incentives to workers to stay in the workforce longer and continuing to pay Social Security taxes and delaying collection of their checks.

Encore serves as a handbook for those nearing the end of their careers either because they have been pushed out the door into an early retirement or because they have become so burned out by their jobs that they leave voluntarily. Freedman knows that, at that point in their lives, many people begin to think about finding the kind of job that they have dreamed about for years while working at something they may not have enjoyed. They often find that they can afford to trade a certain amount of income for more meaningful work and they are anxious to make that trade. But where do they start?

Freedman is suggesting that potential retirees should not settle for the traditional, and usually low paying, “bridge jobs” that are so common today, jobs that are used to ease a person into retirement over a two or three year period. As he points out, there are increasing worker shortages in fields like education, health care, and the non-profit sector, areas in which a person contemplating a career shift in his fifties still has plenty of time to find a meaningful second career. In fact, some are likely to find that their second career will last almost as long as their first one.

Of course none of this will be possible unless employers and the government join together to make it possible for older workers to stay in the work force. Employers need to understand that retaining, rather than discarding, experienced workers is good for business because that experience will be almost impossible to replace from a shrinking pool of potential employees. The government must offer incentives to workers to keep working at least to their normal retirement age of 65-67 years of age so that Social Security taxes can continue to be collected from them. Those who work beyond that age should be exempt from paying Social Security taxes because, by simply not drawing from the system, they are helping to keep in solvent.

Encore is filled with inspirational stories told in their own words by people who have carved out meaningful second careers for themselves. The book’s appendix is filled with suggestions on how to begin a second career and has contact information for organizations in several fields that offer information and advice on how to do just that. This is an important book.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. Thanks for this review, Sam. I find Freedman's ideas both intriguing and practical from what you've included here. Let us hope the government reaches the same conclusion because, although I'm happy to be out of the work force, more people are not and would love to continue with meaningful work. I'm putting this one on my list.

  2. I know people who are running into the problem that they don't want to retire but can't find good jobs to keep going.

    Others have planned on working forever, (and not saved accordingly) and have jobs where it's possible, only to have their health fail them.

  3. Jenclair, there is so much information in this book that a book review just can't do it justice...would have to be 2000 words long instead of 600. I've got mixed emotions about being out of the work force at the moment. Some days I miss having a regular job...others I realize how great it has been in the last six months not having the stress of deadlines, travel and a set schedule.

  4. It's a mess, Carrie. I was pushed out three or four years earlier than I planned to leave, but I was one of the lucky ones. On that same day, I walked out with a bunch of people in their mid-forties who had planned to worked for another 15-20 years and who are still today, after six months, finding it very difficult to find any work comparable to what they had before. The system is broken.

  5. A surprising amount has been outsourced. It's not just seamstresses and cars, it's accounting and computer work.

  6. I was reminded of that again this weekend and yesterday as I spent hours on the phone talking with techs in India in a group effort to resolve my father's internet connection problems. After almost six hours, total, on the phone, I just decided to cancel the whole thing and start over with a new provider.

    I got to talk to another Indian tech yesterday but she managed to get things working for him.