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Retirees return to work in New York City under new program

When Mort Sheinman retired in his mid-60s, he was managing editor of a major trade publication, and he had spent more than four decades earning some well-deserved rest.

Instead, the former Women's Wear Daily manager went right back to work, ultimately taking a job that used all his professional expertise and paid him just $10 (EUR 7) an hour.

New York City is hoping to find more ex-professionals like the 73-year-old - people who are either unable or unwilling to return to full-time work but who want to use their skills and stay in touch with the workaday world.

The city's Department for the Aging is launching a program to bring at least 100 such participants to work on short-term projects for city agencies. With a growing number of baby boomers approaching retirement with decades of active, healthy life ahead of them, organizers say the program could serve as a model for cities around the country.

The effort is to be operated by ReServe, an organization that has been matching seniors with part-time jobs in the New York metro area since 2005. Participants, called ReServists, work about 10-15 hours a week for $10 (EUR 7) an hour.

"The No. 1 benefit for any retiree is to do something that gets you out of the house," said Sheinman, who's been writing and networking for the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership Business Improvement District. "I see it as an opportunity for me to go learn, for me to keep learning things."

The city hopes to spend $1 million (EUR 730,000) a year to bring at least 100 ReServists to work for its agencies. Organizers envision asking retired marketers to help the Health Department plan outreach campaigns on health risks, while ex-educational advocates could work guiding juvenile detainees back into the school system.

The success of the program will depend on the interest of the city's agencies, which will have to propose projects in order to receive workers.

For some of the seniors, the stipend is more than a token sum. One participant, an architect's assistant who lost her job when her boss retired, found it impossible to find new employment at her age, recounted ReServe's executive director, Claire Haaga Altman. Her paycheck from the program allowed her to buy necessities.

The story underscores the difficulty many older professionals have finding new full-time work once they approach or pass retirement age. For those people, ReServe's compensation - offered after so many years of experience - may seem paltry.

But Altman says the money, though minimal, serves an important purpose by sending the message to employers and ReServists alike that their work is both valued and valuable.

"It dignifies the work," she said. "Volunteers often get shunted to stuffing envelopes."

And, Altman said, about 80 percent of participants have no acute need for the stipend. Many are pleased to work on a project that goes beyond volunteering but still allows them to have a flexible schedule and escape the pressures of a full-time job.

For many ReServists, their assignments allow them to explore new facets of old skills.

Leo D. Johnson, an ex-field engineer who was once responsible for training others, now teaches computer skills to 2- to 12-year-olds at a neighborhood center. After spending the first decade of his retirement mostly sitting at home puttering on his computer, the experience is a revelation.

"I didn't get to see my kids grow because I was out working," the 75-year-old said. But now, he adds, smiling, "I just see the little kids, 2-year-olds, developing their motor skills - all those primary things I'm sure my wife was doing at home while I was out at work."

Johnson says even his doctor is pleased with the program. Getting out of the house more has helped him lose weight and improve the results of his bloodwork, he said.

With the nation's population aging rapidly, such programs could help fight what some fear could become a baby boomer brain drain. By 2030, 1 in 5 U.S. residents are expected to be 65 or older.

In New York City especially, there are many older residents who are ready to leave behind the rat race but who - like Sheinman - are still interested in keeping up.

"I was never comfortable in a rocking chair," he said. "I always fell out."

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