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Retirement? Not for me, thanks

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Cliff Brown checking duck boxes in Maryland (Courtesy of Cliff Brown)

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Cliff Brown checking duck boxes in Maryland (Courtesy of Cliff Brown)

After decades of working as a financial analyst, Cliff Brown decided it was time to retire. He was done with stocks, markets and banks. But he didn’t want to sit on the couch and watch TV. So, at 59, he now has his own business, and he started a volunteer effort to enhance Maryland’s Wood Duck population, in addition to his work to preserve wildlife on his own farm in Maryland.

“I just can’t imagine doing nothing, sitting like a couch potato,’’ Brown said. “That’s alien to my personality. I will continue to pursue each activity as long as I’m healthy, and I will probably accelerate them some after our last child heads to college this summer and more time frees up. It’s a great exercise physically and mentally.”

According to a February study by Harris Interactive for CareerBuillder.com, more than half of mature workers are putting off retirement. People over 50 are not taking the usual plunge into retirement, playing golf and traveling the world. They don’t want to retire in the traditional sense--or they can’t afford to. More and more baby boomers are finding that slowing down is the last thing they want to do. Instead, they are staying in their jobs longer, or redefining retirement by looking for part-time jobs, starting their own business or pursuing new careers altogether.

Although labor analysts are predicting a shortfall in the American work force when the bulk of the baby boomers start to retire, many of the more than 76.1 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 plan to stay active for a long time. In most cases, they can’t afford to retire. Many of the second careerists were laid off in a flagging economy and need a new job.

This trend has triggered a proliferation of Web sites run by companies devoted to help the older citizens in their job hunts. For example, last February, CareerBuiler.com launched a baby boomer-focused Web site, called PrimerCB.com. Other sites, such as RetirementJobs.com, WorkForce50.com or DinosaurExchange.com, target workers older than 50, and some of them are directed to volunteerism, international business, science, nonprofits or community service projects.

According to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder.com, three out of five workers age 50 or older plan to look for work elsewhere after retiring from their present jobs—51 percent of workers age 50 or older plan to retire after 65; 16 percent say they will stop working after 70.

The study finds that the majority of them, 44 percent, can’t afford to retire. Also, 30 percent say they need health insurance benefits. Another 23 percent enjoy their jobs and want to stay in them, and 17 percent fear that retirement may be boring.

Employers value experienced workers, according to CareerBuilder.com’s study. It said that 22 percent of employers claim they plan to hire retirees from other companies, and 14 percent plan to give older workers incentives to stay with the company longer.

“The companies are concerned about the loss of qualified workers,” said Jennifer Grasz, senior director of Corporate Communications at CareerBuilder.com. “They want to preserve the value older workers bring to the company. They value their intellectual capability, their experience, their knowledge.”

However, older workers also face problems when it comes to finding new jobs and competing with younger people, who are more technology savvy and may be willing to work for less money.

“Sometimes baby boomers are forced to get a new job and it’s not so easy to find one. There is age discrimination,” said Scott Kane, founder and managing partner of Grey Hair Management, a company based in Deerfield, Ill., which caters to people over 50.

Also, boomers who have had the same job for a long time don’t know how to sell themselves when searching for a new position, Kane added. Those who do get employment are “the ones who have been able to convince their employers that their experience is valuable,” he said.

Some baby boomers dare to start their own businesses. Andrea J. Stenberg spotted this trend and founded a Web site called “The Baby Boomer Entrepreneur.” Based in Ontario, Canada, but with many clients from the United States, her company advises mature workers how to succeed in this line of business.

“Some are offered an early retirement package and they’re not mentally or financially ready to retire, and that package allows them to start a business financially,” Stenberg said. “But most people I met are following their dream, their passion, something they really love.”

Marcia Kramer, 59, is one of these entrepreneurs. Two years ago she took an early retirement offer from the Washington Post, where she worked for more than 21 years. She then set up an editing service in Bethesda, Md. “It seemed like the right time to make a change,” Kramer said. “I wanted to keep working, I enjoy it, and it helps pay the bills.”

Kramer says she was nervous when she first started to work on her own. “You just don’t know if it’s going to work,’’ she said. “You can have confidence in your ability to do your job but finding clients is another thing. Early on, when I had a couple of days without work, I got nervous. Now I’m busy enough that I can enjoy it when I have a day off.”

Sometimes, those who want to advance in their careers go back to school. In fact, community college enrollment is rising among baby boomers.

There are also those who want to improve their communities and do volunteer work or take part in nonprofit efforts. Other boomers are investing their own money in other ventures.

For Angelo Zaragovia, 59, of Miami, Fla., it’s not about the money, but about not retiring. After developing hotels for the last 15 years, he is in a position to stop working. However, last year he just started developing more affordable, boutique hotels, a kind he had not worked on before. The challenge of doing something new kept him in the real estate business.

“I did it because I couldn’t retire,’’ he said. “I think I would be very bored, I would get desperate doing nothing. I’m in the last part of life, and so I want to do things I didn’t do before.”

E-mail : mc2931@columbia.edu