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What's a Good Job?

The answer, which may surprise you, depends on why you work.

Work is central to our lives. If you're 50 to 75 years old, you've spent anywhere from 35 to 50 years of your life working. Most of us planned on retiring at age 60, 62, or perhaps 65 to 70 at the latest, having "put in our time." Traditionally, we got our education or training, worked for the majority of our lives, and then stopped working during our golden years.

Well, things have changed, and not necessarily for the better. Longer life spans, uncertainties about our retirement plans, personal investment losses, declining home values, and rising costs of living challenge the notion that we can stop working and earning for the last 10, 20, or 30 years of our life. Many people face the very real prospect of not having adequate incomes for the rest of their lives. So the concept of a "working retirement" has emerged. Twenty percent of age 50+ participants in a recent survey report they plan to "work until they die."

But for most of us, the solution is not to keep working as long as possible. Beyond age 50, chronic illnesses and disabilities become an increasing obstacle. Layoffs, reduced hours, and lower pay—and the challenge of age bias in employment—threaten our ability to continue working in our regular occupations or even to find work in a new area. Perhaps it's time to redefine our preconceptions and perceptions about "appropriate" work.

Instead, let's create a new concept: "good jobs." We hear the expression, "good job," all the time, but we need to take it by the reins and to redefine it for age-50+ workers. At this age, and having worked for many years, we've got strong opinions of what a "good" or a "bad" job is. These opinions may be getting in our way.

We're often defined by what we do: "I'm a teacher," or, "I'm a carpenter," doesn’t just describe our occupation. Most of us think it defines who we are. This can become a sticking point as we age and continue to work. Misperceptions and value judgments about "low status" occupations may mislead us.

The actual reasons we work are for pay, benefits, and a sense of financial security. We also work for pride, self-esteem, social contact, and learning. Recent research and plain old common sense also say that work can literally make us happier and healthier, just as stopping work, or being in a tumultuous workplace, can damage physical and emotional health.

So perhaps our definitions of "good jobs," rather than being the best-paid, most secure, most pleasant, and the most socially respected, should be restated.
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