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Have an interest in the well-being of older adults, a passion for elder advocacy, or just considering a career with more job security? As more and more baby boomers reach retirement age, the United States is experiencing a shortage of people trained to meet the unique needs of older adults. There are a number of career paths an individual can take if they want to work with or for older Americans. There’s medicine, teaching, public policy, non-profit work, and research just to name a few.

I’m a member of the Gamma Upsilon chapter of Sigma Phi Omega national gerontology honor society at the UMass Boston.  Our officers are hosting a local event during “Careers in Aging Week” on April 8, 2013 that will feature a career panel and luncheon for interested students, adult learners, faculty, career counselors, and the general public.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Burr, chair of my gerontology department,“This Careers in Aging Week event will provide important information about the wide range of professions in the field of aging and aging research, raise awareness about older populations and their needs, and inform students and the public of the many academic programs available to get one started on a career path.”

As someone who has been in an aging field for years, I am hoping not only to learn about job opportunities but to network with local professionals at the event. “Gamma Upsilon’s chapter of Sigma Phi Omega national academic honor society at University of Massachusetts Boston is proud to bring Careers in Aging Week to the Boston community,” said Kristen Porter, a PhD student in gerontology and president of the chapter. “We will be joining our colleagues across the country who are hosting similar events. Our April 8 event includes a lunch reception with gerontology faculty and students along with a career panel comprised of four esteemed professionals working in distinct aspects of the aging field.”

Panelists include Jane Saczynski, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at UMass Medical School; Suzanne Leveille, PhD, RN, Director of PhD Program in Nursing at UMass Boston; Andrea Cohen, CEO at HouseWorks; and Emily Shea, Commissioner of the Commission on Affairs of the Elderly. Porter notes, “Panelists will share their own education and career trajectories as well as offer their advice to students considering a career in the aging field.”

The event is free and will take place at the University of Massachusetts Boston in McCormack Hall’s Ryan Lounge beginning at 12:30 p.m. If you are in the Boston area this is a great opportunity to learn and network, hope I see you there!

This post by Robert Powell from MarketWatch (The Wall Street Journal) discusses a bleak outlook for America’s state of retirement security. In my opinion, the most important thing mentioned in this article is how the lack of financial education among workers can directly affect their retirement wealth. Many people hold misguided expectations about their retirement portfolios and believe they have more in Social Security benefits, employer pension plans, or health and long-term care coverage than they really do (Helman, VanDerhei, & Copeland, 2007). What’s worse, this misinformation can actually drive planning behavior so much that ill-informed workers, rather than doing nothing, are losing significant portions of their pension wealth because they take inappropriate and detrimental action (Chan & Stevens, 2003). Not everyone has expendable income to play with, yet the financially-informed worker is 5 times more likely to respond to pension incentives accordingly and increase their pension wealth (Ekerdt & Hackney, 2002).

The article highlights many other topics that are important to educate yourself about. We need to fix Social Security, we need to contribute more to our own 401(k)s and retirement savings, we need to make sure more workers are covered by pension plans, and so forth. Yet, many of the suggestions for fixing these issues are based on what’s feasible for the typical, middle class worker.

Should you really force people to put part of their wages into an IRA when they need every penny of every paycheck to cover the costs of food, shelter, and clothing? If yes, can you tell them what percentage of their income they must contribute? Are you then required to financially educated them or give them free access to financial experts? Will they even live long enough to reap the benefits of their automatic IRA account?

Longevity may be increasing in this country but we should always be cautious of statistics. Longevity varies widely by gender, race, income level, health status, region of the country…I don’t know, pick something. In fact, life expectancy has actually declined for women between 1997 and 2007 which is extremely rare in developed countries. “The nation has experienced a widening gap between the most and least healthy places to live. In some regions of the country, men and women are dying younger on average than their counterparts in nations such as Syria, Panama and Vietnam.”

As with any policy change or “universal” action, all parties who will be affected by the changes must be considered. I encourage you to read Powell’s article and to approach his solutions cautiously. Though it cannot be the only answer, there is one that seems to me most helpful and realistic: Financial education for all.

 

During a Qualitative Research Methods course, I conducted a focus group on young adults discussing how they view retirement and what, if anything, are they doing about it. Being interested in the topic but finding little besides opinions out there, I wanted to ask the source. My findings are not generalizable by any means, however my participants did bring up a reason for not saving no one has seemed to mention yet.

Financial planners and economists out there are screaming at young adults. Timing is everything, You need a Roth IRA, and Research urges you to start now. And people speculate as to why they are not listening. They have student loans, they are irresponsible, they only care about consumption in the present, they have other financial priorities such as a house, or they are anxious about Social Security and whether or not they can trust our government. Yes, all of these topics did come up in my conversation with the group, but so did something else. Intimidation.

75% of the individuals I spoke with are very intimidated by the thought of a retirement account or a 401(k). They know it is a good idea and feel foolish for “not speaking the the HR guy,” but frankly they are confused and scared. This is their money, what little they have, and they don’t know where to put it. They are listening to the professionals yelling at them to save and are whispering back, “But what does this even mean? What am I getting into?” Why this is interesting to me is because no one is talking about it. Not all young adults have the opportunity to put money in a 401(k), but many young adults who have this option feel uneducated. Think about how many of them were raised, taught to arm themselves with knowledge when making a decision, weigh all the options, shoot for the best and accept nothing less. It’s no wonder they feel they cannot make this significant decision about their future when they are missing information.

It is sad to me that financial education, something that impacts every American’s life, has been cut from the school systems. If not cut, it is an elective course or the “lower-level” math. We teach our children about history, geography, biology, literature, chemistry, and calculus. Proper knowledge of these will get you into college and allow you to acquire a better paying job, but none of these subjects will be a part of every American’s future. None of these subjects affect their life like having good financial knowledge. Too bad they don’t get it, and so we leave them uninformed and intimidated.

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