It turns out Freud was right: “work and love” are essential for human happiness. Older adults do not age out of those most human of needs, or the need for cash. While San Francisco cannot requisition a love potion, we can do quite a lot for the work side of the equation.
Most seniors, today over 65,000, by 2040 about 1/3 of the City, do not have enough income to meet basic needs. The highest percentages of individuals living below the poverty level in San Francisco are older adults.
But wait! Frail elders and some seniors do require support, but many older San Franciscans can and want to work. They just can’t find jobs.
Persistent ageism within key local industries – tech, hospitality, construction – is one of the daunting barriers. Other barriers: limited programs to increase senior employment, and no coordination, visibility and evaluation for minimal work-generating initiatives that do exist. Some programs are in place – the Senior Community Service Employment Program, Foster Grandparents, and Senior Companion Program. However, these reach only a fraction of senior seekers. Training, like the dedicated efforts of Jewish Vocation Services, exists but begs the larger issue of jobs open to seniors.
SF’s recent workforce development initiatives won’t help seniors put food on the table, keep lights on or provide a modicum of comfort. The Mayor’s 17-Point Jobs Plan, the Office of Economic/Work Development’s sector-based Access Point Strategy, and SF’s Draft Consolidated Plan don’t address unique barriers to seniors’ economic security. In the void, ageism reinforces stereotypes of older adults.
Other cities are taking bold steps to address these perils, spawning new programs responding to older adults’ eagerness for part-time, social-purpose work. NYC helped launch ReServe, offering seniors part-time, project-based social sector work. “ReServists” receive stipends for a variety of assignments – helping their peers manage chronic disease, serving as “success mentors” to motivate at-risk middle school students or moderating phone chats for housebound adults. These workers are willing to accept small (but potentially life sustaining) paychecks in exchange for assignments involving passion and purpose.
Programs like ReServe, which now operates in seven localities, often rely on city sponsorship and support to get off the ground, but they build in fee income to ensure they can be self-sustaining over time. Not only do these programs provide vital income to seniors, they also generate profound collateral benefits because older workers enrich an intergenerational workforce, boost organizational capacity and help solve social problems.
This City must do more to raise awareness of older adults’ capacity for work and to promote older adult job creation. Our elected leaders need to approve a Final Consolidated Plan that includes measurable steps and funding to help older adults find work. Additionally our elected leaders should lend support and momentum to a City-wide Senior Workforce Empowerment Campaign (SWEC). This campaign would help significant numbers of seniors find work by: raising awareness of the need, planning for specific job creation strategies (especially those that are self-sustaining, like ReServe), and then mobilizing computer trainers, coordinators and community connectors. SWEC can become that meeting point where government, nonprofits, community agencies, business, philanthropies – and seniors – all come together, act in unison, and leverage now-scattershot efforts for a true movement.
If this world-class city is going to truly promote economic sustainability, it needs to acknowledge the unique barriers facing older adults, recognize win-win rewards of mobilizing an older adult workforce, and become a catalyst for new, sustainable and measurable senior job creation.
San Francisco should be an incubator for new models of a 21st Century workforce that spans, and benefits, the entire, authentic working-age spectrum. San Francisco seniors want a hand, not a hand-out, plus new opportunities to earn needed income, contribute and connect – time tested ingredients for human happiness.
Marie Jobling, Executive Director, Community Living Campaign (CLC)
415-821-1003, ex. 1; firstname.lastname@example.org
1360 Mission Street, Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94103
Jill Center, CLC Board Vice President