here for PDF format
Here for participants' responses to this interview.
Hively, Advocate for Productive Aging
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle #920, Bloomington, MN 55437
January 22, 2010
Verne Johnson (Chair); David Broden, Janice Clay (phone), Marianne Curry
(phone), Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland (phone), Dan Loritz, Tim McDonald, Jim
Olson (phone), Wayne Popham (phone), Bob White
Context of the meeting—
Continuing the focus of the Caucus on redesigning public services, Jan
Hively will visit today on the concept of ‘productive aging,’ or, moving
beyond seeing aging only in terms of cost.
Societies ebb and flow
in the age-distribution of their populace, and Minnesota is and will be
trending older for some time. Combined with budget problems and health
care costs that are persisting independent of demographic shifts, this
presents a significant challenge. Health and human services alone account
for about 41 percent of the budget (http://www.mmb.state.mn.us/doc/budget/report-pie/all-nov09.pdf),
and as John James shared last week health care costs continue to present
the strongest pressure on state finances.
Hively’s message then
is an important one, for the health of our people and our public services.
In preparation for today’s visit Hively put together a helpful four-page
document, to be found here:
Welcome and introductions—
Jan Hively is a living testament to her
personal credo of maximizing productivity and assuring “meaningful work,
paid or unpaid, through the last breath.” Hively received her PhD
in Education for Work and Community from the University of Minnesota
in spring 2001 at age 69. Since then she has helped found three
organizations dedicated to empowering older adults: the Vital Aging
Network, the Minnesota Creative Arts and Aging Network, and “SHiFT,” a
community network empowering midlife transitions in life and work.
Hively’s work on aging
arose from her past professional positions in community outreach,
planning, and administration for public and nonprofit organizations.
Her professional life has included serving as
president and executive director of the Golden Apple Foundation for
Excellence in Teaching, founder and executive director of the Minneapolis
YOUTH TRUST, deputy mayor of the City of Minneapolis, and director of
outreach and a faculty member of the University of Minnesota’s College of
Education and Human Development.
Comments and discussion—During
Hively’s visit with the Civic Caucus, the following points were made:
Aging is an opportunity, not simply a liability--“So
often when we talk about aging,” Hively began her remarks, “we talk about
it as being a cost. We have health care and social services for the frail
elderly. Old people represent needs.”
We need to capitalize
on boomers. “We’ve added 20 years to life in the past half-century…but
we’ve added them to the middle years, not the end years. The rate of
chronic disability has actually gone down 15 percent because of modern
“Brain research shows
that brain cells continue to multiply throughout life, and that there is a
creative spurt between the ages of 55 and 75.”
Avoiding higher public expenses?--A
member asked, “So you’re saying we can keep costs from increasing?”
Hively reframed it:
“This is a matter of productivity—paid or unpaid work that provides value.
Many people who are aging are providing a meaningful contribution
to society, and to their families. People who are active are healthier and
live longer. Productive aging is essential to health.”
A member asked, why is
it that this message of the aging continuing to contribute is not what we
hear every day?” It is easier to think in terms of aging being a cost,”
Hively replied. Especially now. “You have falling stock prices that affect
retirees most directly, so we hear about that.
“And retirees pay less
in taxes. About half they’d be paying if they were employed.” So that fits
the narrative, as well.
Pension funds are not a viable model for retirement savings--Hively
gives workshops, and is active on this topic, internationally. “I see
private and public pension funds failing, yet shortages of skilled labor.
You can address one with the other. Find ways for people to work past
retirement, yet in lessened and different capacities. They can continue
earning incomes while providing experience at a lower cost.
Hively mentioned a
program that New York City runs, where employers paid $10/hr to retirees
with great expertise. That was enough to make a difference, she said.
Pension funds don’t
work anymore. The World War II generation saved, and had employer pensions
that boomers didn’t, and don’t. “70 percent of Americans approaching
retirement have too much debt and not enough savings.” For many people,
retirement is out. “Those hardest his are middle-aged, working men.” Blue
collar and white collar.
Ageism is alive and well—and bad for business--“Employers
are less apt to hire older workers, or keep them on. But hire a 55 year
old and they will stay longer than a 25 year old.”
So, a member asked,
are employers just being stupid?
“It is ageism—bias,”
Hively replied. “See it the same as racism. Does it make logical sense?
No, but people do it.”
But business is good
at maximizing labor, the member countered, so this doesn’t make sense,
that they would not identify the value of paying more, for someone with
“I think it has to do
with short-term thinking…stock price…the United States’ negative social
attitude toward old people.”
being very rational,” another member suggested, “by responding to those
factors that they are judged upon.”
“You have got to get
industry to buy in to keeping people on,” Hively said. “Need to create the
No incentives for older workers in the governmental sector?--“In
the areas where the Civic Caucus is looking for redesign,” a member
observed, “almost all workers are unionized. And they have public
pensions. They are retiring at a rate of pay where they are seeing no
significant disruption in pay, and so are not compelled into additional
work, for money.”
“We need to have
flexibility,” Hively answered, “which includes the ability to go down in
pay, too, if a person willingly gives up responsibilities.” A public
employee may with to retire from a top-tier position, for example, but
assume a position with less responsibilities in return for a lower salary.
That is difficult to do now.
“The greatest cost to
the state,” the same member said, “is not K-12, are not health services,
but premiums for health care for state employees. It might be helpful to
divide this conversation into public/private,” because the two sides seem
to be dealing with very different problems: Private industry is not
recognizing the value of older workers, and public employment does not
have enough flexibility to make best use of senior staff and recent
retirees. Hively agreed.
Growing health care costs are a function of the system, not a population
“Health care is the
problem,” Hively asserted, “not aging.” The majority of costs come on two
fronts—through preventable disease, which has more to do with wellness
than age, and in the very final days, weeks, and months of life.
Otherwise, “You are more likely now than ever to fall asleep and wake up
The key is to see
people as being willing and able to contribute in needed and legitimate
ways, right up to the end of life. This process of remaining physically
and mentally alert will itself cut down on how much health care is
“The bottom line is
that we need to reverse public expectations that aging is something that
will drain our coffers, and that we have no hope. Purposeful lives result
in the public good for everyone.”