The era of long, vacation-style retirements is over, says Marc Freedman, CEO and founder of Encore.org. "That ideal is no longer attainable for individuals, and it's not sustainable for society. Who can afford a balloon payment for 30 years of leisure?" he asks. Federal survey data show that most full-time workers actually retire in stages--switching to part-time work, or dipping in and out of the labor market as they age.
Older Americans are also collecting their Social Security checks later and working at rates not seen since the 1960s. In the mid-1990s, less than a third of people age 55 and over were either actively employed or looking for work. Today, the share is 40 percent, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve.
Lengthening life spans and changing lifestyles account for part of the shift. Americans who hit age 65 can expect to live another 20 years. Often, their family responsibilities are still ongoing: In 2012, one-third of baby boomers had both an elderly parent and a financially dependent child, according to the Pew Research Center.
Changing pension plans are also part of the story. Fewer workers are enrolled in defined-benefit pension plans, which guarantee monthly payments after retirement, and more are enrolled in 401(k) plans that grow with salary contributions. "There's a much bigger payoff to staying in the workforce," says Richard Johnson, director of the program on retirement policy at the Urban Institute. "As you keep working, you're really improving your retirement security, because you're able to add to your nest egg."
With the average fellow earning $25,000 for a year of 1,000 hours of work, Encore.org's fellowships aren't supposed to be family-supporting jobs but are intended to help older workers move to the next stage of their working lives."The fellowship is serving a lot of purposes of a person's transition," says Leslye Louie, national director of the Encore Fellowship Network. "It could be going from the for-profit sector to the nonprofit sector, it could be going from full-time work to part-time work, it could be moving from one part of the United States to another."
Anyone can apply for Encore fellowships, but the majority of fellows so far have spent their careers in the private sector and have been able use that experience to help build the capacity of nonprofit organizations, drawing on expertise in areas like marketing or performance management. Organizations affiliated with Encore.org's fellowship network vet candidates and set up interviews with employers. Stipends are generally provided by nonprofit partners, although some fellows are supported by former employers or by foundations. Many fellows go on to take full-time or part-time nonprofit jobs.
Just like fellowships for recent college grads, Encore fellowships help workers get their foot in the door. It is generally harder for older workers to find new jobs than younger workers, and a bad economy has exacerbated the trend. In 2011, the average job seeker over age 55 was spending 35 weeks looking for a job, compared to 26 weeks for younger job seekers, according to federal statistics. Age discrimination continues to be a problem older workers face. Some employers assume--falsely-- that more-experienced workers are more expensive, harder to manage, and less committed to their jobs, says Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.