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Clocking back in

How our growing senior population translates to an aging workforce

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 28, 2015

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METRO DETROIT — So many of us look forward to the day we retire — when the curtain closes on our working life and we can finally take a bow and enjoy time with family and friends, sans the responsibilities of the daily grind.

But now that seniors are living longer, stronger and more independently than ever, lots of retirees are opting to step back into the spotlight to take on what some experts call an “encore career.”

In fact, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics said that more than 20 percent of the U.S. workforce — some 33 million people — is 55 and older, and that number is expected to increase. With baby boomers reaching senior status and health care keeping older citizens active longer, it makes sense that Americans are working past their retirement age, whether it’s simply to stay active or to bring in needed income.

But the reason those retirees choose to work varies, according to Sherrie James, a career counselor at Jewish Vocational Service in Southfield. James oversees JVS’s Recharge! program, which helps clients over the age of 50 reinvent themselves in the workforce with assessments, training and resources to jump-start a new career.

“It really runs the gamut as to why people come to us. We thought maybe we would see a lot of people looking to volunteer, but everyone wants to work — whether they just want to make a difference or give back, or people who were either laid off from their current career or (are) re-entering the workforce after leaving to care for a loved one,” said James.

Recharge! works with small groups of unemployed seniors to explore their passions and strengths to come up with a meaningful post-retirement career path for every client. The five-week program, which costs $35, helps participants find out whether they need additional job training, computer skills or other assets to re-enter the workforce. James said that some clients go on to open the business of their dreams or transition their prior work experiences into new, more fulfilling avenues.

“There’s really no trend as to what kind of job (participants) choose, except to say that they don’t want to have as stressful a job as they did before, but they still want to be productive and engaged,” she explained. “Like people who were in the for-profit field might want to go nonprofit now, for instance. The common theme is that everyone wants to give back and make a difference.”

For other seniors, going back to work is less about fulfillment and more about necessity. Amy Drake, senior citizen coordinator for Shelby Township, said older citizens on a fixed income often come to her looking for work to make ends meet.

“We have a (posting) board for people who are looking for opportunities,” Drake said. “They’re looking to make additional money, specifically in regard to health care. There have been so many changes to health care, and when people retire, they expect a certain level of benefits. They’ve projected their income, and now they find that they’re required to pay more for health care than they had planned. That’s the biggest challenge to them and the biggest reason for needing extra income.”

Luckily, there are resources available to those citizens. The U.S. Department of Labor oversees a program called the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which works to put qualifying seniors to work. The effort is authorized under Title V of the Older Americans Act of 1965, and organizations across the state offer Title V training and employment programs for low-income unemployed individuals over age 55.

“The people from Michigan Works! have been really good — we refer quite a few people there who have a significant need,” said Drake of the workforce development program that serves job seekers around the state. “It’s a very nice program, and they’ll place (seniors) in their community in a job that fits your needs. They help seniors with putting together a résumé, job training, whatever they need.”

JVS is located at 29699 Southfield Road in Southfield. For more information, call (248) 559-5000 or visit

The Michigan Works! Association can be reached by calling (800) 285-9675 or visiting

Are you a senior looking to jump-start a new career? Pure Michigan Talent Connect has plenty of resources to get you started. Visit for more information.