Office for the Aging


National Governors Association Center for Best Practices - Policy Academy on Civic Engagement:
Engaging Seniors in Volunteering and Employment

With 3.4 million people over the age of 60, New York ranks third in the nation in the total number of older adult citizens (Woods & Poole, Economics, Complete Demographic Database File 2006) and the State’s current demographic projections show considerable growth in that population and a decline in the population of those under the age of 60. As the number of older New Yorkers has grown, however, the rate at which older New Yorkers participate in the workforce has not increased. Equally troubling, New York is ranked 49th out of the 50 states in the level of volunteer service contributed by its residents (Volunteering in America 2007, Corporation for National and Community Service).

In 2008, Governor Paterson directed NYSOFA to take the lead in applying for the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices - Policy Academy on Civic Engagement: Engaging Seniors in Volunteering and Employment

The aging of New York’s population will substantially affect certain occupations and industries in New York and future workforce needs may go unmet unless mature workers are retained and retrained. The impending retirement of large numbers of baby boomers from key industries - including state government, educational services, health services, public administration, the non-profit sector and some manufacturing - may lead to significant knowledge gaps, and these can be addressed through a systematic workforce/civic engagement strategy. As New York seeks to attract and nurture innovative and high-growth industries, we must by necessity use to our advantage the judgment and experience that mature workers possess while we provide them with valuable new skills. The good news is that a recent study shows that many in the coming wave of baby boomers want second careers in areas where we will experience shortages - 50% are interested in second careers in education, health care, government and non-profit work (Study by Marc Freedman, Founder of Civic Ventures, to be released June 2008).

There are also economic benefits that may accrue to the State in the form of increased tax revenue and the value of volunteer contributions. A 2006 Urban Institute national study found that if all workers were to delay retirement by one year, the federal government would raise $180 billion in additional tax revenue in 2045 (measured in 2006 dollars). A program in New York to extend participation in the workforce through the retirement years would presumably have a similar positive effect on state tax revenues. Additionally, an increase in volunteerism will benefit New York’s communities. Even with New York’s relatively low rate of volunteerism, NYSOFA estimates that communities receive over $900 million in economic benefits per year as a result of volunteer activities performed by older adults. (Figure calculated by NYS Office for the Aging)

New York’s objective to link civic engagement of older adults to efforts to support unpaid caregivers will help ease pressures caused by the shortage of professional caregivers and inure to the economic benefit of the state. Almost eighty percent of all long term care needs of functionally impaired persons are provided by family, friends and neighbors at an estimated value of over $24 billion annually (AARP). Paying for such care giving through Medicaid or other government programs would be untenable in the short-term and create unsustainable tax burdens in the long-term.

Finally, New York also anticipates that increased work and volunteer opportunities will make New York an attractive place for older adults to remain in or relocate to as they retire. To become a destination state for retirees, New York must not only develop its housing, recreational and cultural resources but also its work and volunteer opportunities.

The creation of more opportunities for civic engagement, the removal of barriers that prevent such engagement and the development of best practices that create paid and unpaid jobs that reflect the preferences and needs of older adults will benefit them in a myriad of ways. Based on an initial review of academic literature, we expect older adults will benefit in three specific ways:

  • Increased economic security. Financial necessity is a driving factor behind the desire of many older employees to work - whether on a part-time, full-time or self-employed basis. A recent study completed by MetLife determined that 18% of Baby Boom workers age 55-59 report that they expect to have no access to private retirement benefits when they stop working and are likely to feel compelled to work well past traditional retirement age. Those working but having no expectation of retirement benefits are more likely to be women (40%) than men (27%). About 14% of workers from age 60 to 65 and 10% of workers from age 66 to 70 expect to receive nothing but Social Security when they finally stop working. According to the Urban Institute, many older workers are delaying retirement to deal with the impact of rising health care costs.
  • Improved health (physical and mental), longevity and functional ability. Academic research has repeatedly shown that volunteer work can lead to better physical and mental health (The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, 2007, The Corporation for National and Community Services). Such research demonstrates that volunteers have increased longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease.
  • Reduced social isolation and increased social connection. Volunteering puts people into highly social situations, increasing the opportunity for close interpersonal relationships and strengthening a sense of identity (Peer Counseling Perspectives, April 2003 Survival News, Mary Lynn Hemphill, “Volunteer For Your Health”). An evaluation of the Experience Corps program, which links senior volunteers with participating schools, found that senior volunteers who were inactive when they enrolled in the Corps reported a near-doubling in their physical activity levels.