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Entrepreneurship One Answer for Aging Boomers As Jobs Dwindle

Posted: Dec 19, 2012

Photo: Older Hispanics are shown attending a 2011 town hall meeting by Latinos for a Secure Retirement.

SAN DIEGO--As the aging baby boomers generation continues to live longer and in better physical and mental health than even they had anticipated, they are beginning to face the dilemma of financing their future.

Until recent years the answer to this challenge for many older workers was simply to remain in the workplace longer. But since the recession hit, jobs for seniors have practically disappeared.

Factors that have created troubling financial uncertainty for those nearing their retirement years have included lay-offs, difficulty finding work and forced early retirement, as well as lost pensions, retirement savings and benefits.

Although the average retirement age in the U.S. had declined for decades to about 62, it’s begun to creep up in recent years as income and resources had dried up.

Workers 55 or older have the lowest rate of re-employment, according to a recent research brief from the Gerontological Society of America (GSA). A shocking 18 percent of older workers experience unemployment for more than 52 weeks, pushing the majority of them to drop out of the workforce completely. And unemployment rates for low-income seniors are seven times higher than more affluent groups. That level tripled in 2010, due to the recession.

Finding Other Options

However, through this uncertainty and dwindling financial security, many older have been forced to be creative and explore other options. Out of their perseverance the concept of “senior entrepreneurship” was born, and is starting to pick up momentum.

According to research by Civic Ventures, approximately one in four Americans ages 44-70 are interested in starting a business or nonprofit in the next decade. This novel concept just may be a feasible and sustainable solution for some.

On the plus side, seniors offer a wealth of life and business experience, including management experience. They have larger professional networks and are often credited with having better work ethics than today’s younger workforce.

Senior entrepreneurs are also more interested in creating a meaningful business, one with a social or community purpose. Roughly half of senior entrepreneurs are involved in social enterprises or nonprofits, according to Elizabeth Isele, co-founder of SeniorEntreprenuershipWorks.org.

As senior entrepreneurship has continued to build, new ideas for sustainability and success have emerged. Part of this growing entrepreneurship trend offering multiple benefits involves intergenerational business partnerships pairing seniors with younger entrepreneurs, college grads and even veterans, Isele said at the recent GSA conference in San Diego.

“The concept of pairing senior entrepreneurs with college grads who are having a hard time finding work is a great concept. This is a win-win situation – both have jobs, economic opportunity and they learn from each other,” explained Isele, widely regarded as a national go-to expert on senior entrepreneurship.

Putting More Back Into Economy

“The effect is that these seniors are mentally and physically well – their health is good, so they are working longer and putting back into the economy, things like Social Security,” Isele said.

SeniorEntrepreneurshipWorks.org credits its efforts in creating an “entrepreneurial ecosystem” which provides and connects these newfound entrepreneurs with resources, training, workshops and support.

Working with seniors around the country, SeniorEntrepreneurshipWorks.org helps older workers create meaningful, successful and sustainable businesses. The organization provides them business assessment to evaluate whether their business idea is feasible, assists many in finding a bank willing to provide business loans to seniors, and also offers them financial training. The group also follows up with seniors they help to help those who need it get over hurdles many business encounter.

Because it is so important for seniors to successfully start their own businesses, the Small Business Association and AARP have recognized the trend and are teaming up to offer additional training and resources for this group of entrepreneurs, Isele said.

“This is still such a new concept, there are not a lot of resources out there yet, but as momentum and interest builds, I am hoping that resources will too,” commented Isele.

Cristina Frésquez wrote this article for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario through the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellows program, a collaboration of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.

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