The Freedom to Work

Michele Warg
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The following is an excerpt from the book Encore by Marc Freedman The year is 2030. The youngest baby boomers are midway through their sixties and starting to claim their Social Security benefits. And none too soon, since the coffers are nearly empty. As many boomers say with only a touch of irony, at least we got ours. The fittest boomers still boast that eighty is the new sixty, but the rest of the country has gotten tired of footing the bill for their lengthy retirement. After a seemingly endless run, America is ready for the baby boom generation to finally get off the stage. With more than one in four Americans over sixty in this future society, generational conflicts abound. Walkers outnumber strollers; nursing homes proliferate while schools close. The millennial generation, now mostly in their thirties and forties, have taken "extreme working" to new heights, pulling extra shifts to support not only truly needy children and the elderly, but also a vast cohort of "greedy geezers" spending one-third of their lives on subsidized vacation. California, with the nation's largest population of individuals over sixty, is the first to experience the ethnic division exacerbated by the aging crisis, as an older, largely white minority confronts a younger and largely Latino majority in the annual budget wars. The nation owes a debt to the boomers, in the form of an intractable deficit pushing the country ever closer to default. Spending on boomers' pensions and health care has replaced nearly all investments in the nation's future. Not only children, but the environment and the economy are suffering from these lost opportunities. America, like its swelling population of pensioners, is visibly and painfully well past its prime. As the 2032 presidential election nears, boomer political power is finally on the wane. But the generation's legacy is assured. Boomers will be remembered as a self-absorbed, self-serving horde of overindulgers who used their votes and their dollars to push their own interests to the forefront, posterity be damned. Now imagine a different scenario. It's still 2030. The boomers are indeed starting to leave the stage. But their encore has been a rousing one and the legacy they leave is far different. The hysterical predictions of academic economists and assorted policy experts that once dominated discussion about the inevitable demographic trends have proven false. Few even remember concerns that the nation was headed to hell in a handbasket because of the huge population of "retiring" boomers. The feared "Gray2K" was a nonevent, just like Y2K before it. Instead, there is a palpable sense of progress. Longevity, demography, human development, generational experience, fiscal imperatives, labor market dictates, and the particular historical moment combined to lead boomers to contribute longer and to use their education and experience in areas with jobs to offer, deeper meaning to confer, and broader social purposes to fulfill. Faced with the practical necessity of extended working lives, boomers have made it a virtue, getting busy on their next chapters, second acts, or Careers 2.0. Some of the ills that seemed intractable at the beginning of the twenty-first century are fading, and others that appeared only to be worsening have made a 180° turn -- all thanks to boomer labor power, now known as the "experience dividend." Now, nearly everyone looks forward to an encore career. The oldest members of the millennial generation, entering their fifties, are getting ready for their own second acts, and younger people clamor for "purpose-driven jobs" in the same way earlier generations embraced early retirement. The goal now is to be able to stop climbing the ladder and start making a difference, to trade money for meaning, to have the latitude to work on things that matter most. Copyright © 2007 Marc Freedman Author Marc Freedman is founder and CEO of Civic Ventures. A former visiting research fellow of King's College, University of London, a frequent commentator in the national media, and the author of both Prime Time and The Kindness of Strangers, Freedman spearheaded the creation of Experience Corps and The Purpose Prize. An Ashoka Senior Fellow, he was recognized in 2007 by Fast Company magazine as one of the nation's leading social entrepreneurs. He is based in San Francisco. For more information, please visit

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  • Caden
    That's way more clever than I was expecting. Thanks!
  • Matilda
    Wow! That's a really neat answer!
  • Jaylene
    You're the greatest!

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