Unretirement

Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think about Work, Community, and the Good Life” by Chris Farrell

c.2014, Bloomsbury
$26.00 / $32.00 Canada
256 pages

 

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

For much of your employed life, you dreamed about not having to work.

Retirement would be great. It would stretch out for years, a horizon with no alarm clock and no deadlines. What will you do with it?

Chances are, says author Chris Farrell, believe it or not, you’ll go to work. And in his new book “Unretirement,” he says you’ll do it because you want to, not because you have to.

It’s a statistic that has some politicians very worried: within the next fifteen years, say demographers, the sixty-five-plus population of America will be nearly equivalent to the current population of New York, California, and Texas combined. That’s a lot of retirees, and a fortune paid out in benefits.

For quite some time, though, economists and pessimists have expressed doubts that Social Security will even be around then. Others bemoan the amount of retirement savings that many Baby Boomers (the age group retired or soon retiring) don’t have. According to Farrell, however, these fears ignore the fact that most Boomers are re-thinking the way retirement will work for them.

He says that Boomers’ “last third of life is being reimagined and reinvented into ‘unretirement.’” They are, for instance, looking at Social Security as a supplement, rather than a sole income – and even then, they’re putting off collecting it. That’s the way it should be, says Farrell: Social Security is sound – it only needs “some tweaks to shore up its finances for the long haul” – but because of longer lifespans and better health, retirees should be encouraged to file later, unless they absolutely can’t wait.

And those late filers?  They’re seeing work in a whole different way: the rate of senior entrepreneurship is up, and so is gradual retirement. They’re staying on the job longer, are finding second (or even third) careers, or are volunteering. And despite that age discrimination can be a real issue, many workplaces have finally recognized the experience and reliability of older workers who are, in many cases, perfectly happy with part-time jobs. In short, Boomers have been “behind many changes in the workplace over the past four decades,” and they’re definitely not done.

Your IRA is fat and you like it that way. But how, when the time comes, will you use it?  Read “Unretirement,” and you might have a different answer to that question.

With intriguing statistics and a thoughtful tone, author Chris Farrell pooh-poohs pundits who decry the viability of Social Security and avow the belief that retirement-resistant seniors take jobs from younger workers by showing that doom-and-gloom prophesies and myths aren’t warranted or true. Along the way, he examines healthcare and the ACA, aging, home ownership, mentorship with (and from) younger workers, the history of retirement itself, and how other countries perceive their “gray revolution.”

While I’d say that this book is absolutely for Boomers, it’s also, surprisingly, something that Gen X’ers should check out, too. If you’ve already retired, are about to, or have worked all your life so you don’t have to work someday, “Unretirement” is unmissable.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.