Forever Young Information

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Boomers ponder evolving workplace exit strategies

By Steve Arnold

It was different in Steve Paikin's grandfather's day, back when a man laboured for decades, retired and died a couple of years later.

Now people can expect 20 or more years of life after retirement, and that's creating a new class of worker with new demands of employers.

A McMaster University (Hamilton) panel grappled for 90 minutes in April with just what that all means and whether extended working lives are going to be the norm in the future.

Paikin, host of TVO's public affairs program The Agenda With Steve Paikin, moderated the event. His grandfather's story, he said, captures the change sweeping through the country.

"Once upon a time, we had one job. We did it for 35 years or so and then retired, but that world hasn't existed for a long time."

Instead, studies show people are staying in paid employment longer than in the past. While panellists were short on statistics, studies by Statistics Canada and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) capture some of the problem. Statistics Canada figures from 2006 show labour-force participation rates rising steadily for the 65 to 74 age group — from 12.6 per cent in 2001 to 16 per cent in 2006. The CCPA figures show 24 per cent of people in that age range working in 2011.

A number of forces are driving that trend. People are living longer, healthier lives and have the capacity to keep going, while others simply need the money.

Researcher Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital, noted recent figures show 85 per cent of Ontarians say they are worried about having enough money in retirement. At the same time, poverty rates among the elderly are growing sharply.

Others, such as panellists Ian Thomas, Brian Williams and Sherry Cooper, are still in the workforce because they want to be.

Williams, a noted sportscaster, is now 68 and, after covering 14 Olympic Games, isn't ready to turn in his microphone yet.

"I couldn't golf every day. I'd be bored," he told the audience at the McMaster Innovation Park.

All three panellists said while they're still working in their basic fields — music, sports, broadcasting and economics — they've each changed the direction of their careers several times as circumstances have demanded.

Thomas, for example, has been a singer writing his own songs, "but when my albums stopped selling, other singers were still having hits with my songs."

Cooper said she has gone from working for the American government, to a Canadian investment firm, to being chief economist of BMO. She now teaches at McMaster.

"I'm still an economist, but my clientele has changed quite a bit," she said.

Wednesday's panel was part of a two-day Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative funded by the Labarge Charitable Foundation in conjunction with the McMaster Health Forum.

This article ran in the Hamilton Spectator


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