Encore: Finding Work That Matters In The Second Half of Life

By Marc Freedman
Published by Public Affairs Book
Review by Stephen Winbaum
Communications Coordinator - RetirementHomes.com

Encore, by Marc Freedman, is a work in progress.  Following the Baby Boomer generation into its approaching retirement years, it posits a return to an earlier attraction with social justice as second careers.

Baby Boomers are an experimental generation compared to the relatively no-nonsense parents who engendered them; parents who observed and lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War. This earlier generation grew to value the calm of the 50s and then to nurture the largest generation in American history.

With the aging of this older generation, the idea of retirement as a life of leisure was introduced and expanded upon by adept developers and entrepreneurs.

Their children - the Baby Boomers - have been a generation on the move, fleeing their suburban haven to experiment in a fashion unfamiliar to their parents.  The Baby Boom generation changed the way people envisioned life, and according to Freedman, and other social thinkers, will also change the concept of retirement.

This substantial cohort, born from 1946 to 1964, settled down, became productive, and amassed the wealth and possessions they once had renounced.  Freedman maintains that Baby Boomers will return to lives as socially conscious workers.

Freedman excels in the factual narration depicting the entry of Baby Boomers into retirement.  His statistics show that the new model of retirement will change from the 'Golden Years' concept created by Delbert E. Webb to a model of continued work for 5, 10, and more years.  This delay in retirement will help defray the costs to Medicare and Social Security and relieve the burden from the smaller Gen X cohort who will be unable to fill the void left by the mass exodus of Baby Boomers into retirement.

Freedman, the Founder of Civic Ventures, a California policy institute, envisions several types of boomer jobs: bridge jobs which pay minimum wage, no benefits, but keep people busy; a collection of jobs and other assignments that comprise a second core of work; and Encore careers, predicated on a successful life’s work, and a desire to acknowledge those in need; as Freedman writes – “reclaiming a dream deferred before it is denied”.

Freedman’s research is punctuated by five representative aging boomers who have positioned themselves in model Encore careers:

  1. A real estate insurance agent who transformed herself into a point person for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the area of homelessness
  2. A disillusioned car salesman who became a social entrepreneur selling cars to the rural poor
  3. A Detroit truant officer for thirty years who works as a critical care nurse and liaison between patients and doctors
  4. A health care executive who exchanged a high ranking career at medical schools and university hospitals to become an advocate for the homeless
  5. A homemaker turned Episcopal priest

These emblems of Encore careerists fail to address the longstanding concept that people are more interested in working for their personal good than the common good, and provides no guidance for the profit-oriented aspirations of aging boomers.

Freedman focuses on Encore careers related to education, health care, and social work.  There are no examples of Encore careers in entertainment, academia, communications and the internet; also the stuff of unfulfilled dreams.

Only in the appendix does the author admit that Encore careers are indeed bumpy rides and presently unrealized visions.  The practical advice in the appendix is valuable but comes too late.

Encore is a good primer for educational purposes about the status of Baby Boomers entering retirement, but the concept of ‘finding work that matters in the second half of life’ seems too narrow for those with a greater reach.