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What Role Do Retirees Play in Today's Society? Conclusion: Barbara's Story

by Betty Soldz

I began this series to demonstrate that the belief that older people are unproductive is unfounded and leads to Ageism. All "isms" are insidious. Ageism is both hurtful and harmful. These articles have shown that there are many ways seniors benefit society: Many seniors volunteer their time or do caregiving and many are gainfully employed thereby expanding the economy. In this concluding article, I will share with you the story of a woman who mixes retirement and work to find a rewarding life.

The newest Census Bureau statistics show an increase of senior citizens working during what is usually considered as their retirement years. Most help fill the need for employees while earning money to pay their medical and other bills. Many older women work because they have spent years out of the workforce being caregivers and they either receive no pension or only a very small one. They may also receive lower Social Security checks because women have traditionally been paid less and spend fewer years working. In other words, they work because they need the income.

Working in later life is not always about money. Some work for the feeling of satisfaction and recognition they get from doing so. Others remain or return to the workforce for social interaction with others. For all these reasons, the number of Americans 65 and over seeking work increased 10 percent between March 1999 and March 2000 to 4.5 million.

Being retired no longer necessarily means not working outside the home. Many seniors "retire" and then start a second career. Some, like many of the women who write for this website, had rewarding careers in other fields but now find satisfaction in writing. Some, such as Barbara, draw upon the years of experience in their field to develop an interesting new job. The following is Barbara's story.

"I am one of the women who found it difficult to really and truly retire. After 24 years at the School of Social Welfare of the University of California at Berkeley, as a faculty member teaching social welfare management and an administrator for the internship program, I retired with great fanfare – a wonderful party including some of my very first students. I then started my new life by taking a six month trip – cross country with my husband in our motor home.

On return, and feeling somewhat lost, I had lots of lunches with friends and former colleagues, took classes in the daytime, read a lot, enjoyed outings with my husband and socializing with friends a lot, volunteered for a political campaign and the local chapter of NOW, attended meetings of OWL, became a board member of a women's foundation and took a more active role on the board and as an officer of my professional organization, National Association of Social Workers and spent more time grandparenting.

I realized that unlike my husband, who was very content in retirement, I still wanted the challenge and satisfaction of going back to work but wanted to do it only part time. While I was debating about what form my return to work should take, I was approached by the School of Social Welfare to fill in half time for a faculty member going on sabbatical. Perfect! That stretched out to two years, and during that time I began planning for what I would do when it ended.

With a colleague at the School, and under the auspices of the Bay Area Social Services Consortium, (BASSC) I started a program to train upper managers in nine county social service departments in the Bay Area. It was designed to help them learn how to redefine and reorganize their agencies to meet the new challenges posed by welfare reform. BASSC is a unique organization, composed of the directors of the social service departments, deans of the bay area schools of social work and directors of several local foundations. The Executive Development Program is administered through UC Extension. It consists of three five day class room modules spread through the year and an executive exchange where the participants spend fifteen days in a county agency other than their own.

Now beginning its eighth year, the program has trained over two hundred managers and has been an outstanding success, including receiving a national award. My role as coordinator of the program brings me immense rewards: professional growth and stimulation, recognition, relationships with a diverse group of colleagues, the satisfactions of teaching and money for the "extras" or unexpected. I also feel I am making a contribution to the betterment of society by helping to transform agencies serving the poor.

My main challenge is to keep it part time. I strive to be disciplined about what I can undertake and what to delegate to others. Because I am, after all, retired, and want the fun that goes with that as well."

Older people continue to be vital, productive, and active contributors to society. As those of any age, we have the need and the right to be valued and empowered. I think this series has demonstrated that we have earned that right whether we work for pay, as a volunteer, caregiver, student or activist. Today, we are among this society's strongest members, contributing to its strength and vitality.


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