According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, over the past five years approximately 553,000 Ohioans, age 60 and older have left the work force, and in January I will join that exodus when I retire from the Ohio Department of Aging. But as thousands of other older Ohioans have, I will opt to stay active, engaged and employed well beyond the traditional retirement age. Some of us have the luxury to choose that route while others by necessity find that they must continue to work. In fact, we older Ohioans represent the fastest growing group of workers, students and volunteers. Our active involvement in our communities is vital to the well-being of our state.
Today's older adults are living longer and healthier lives which has many positive outcomes for us individually and collectively. As an example, remaining engaged and active can reduce our personal healthcare expenditures by an average of $2,000 per year, according to a 2008 Health Partners article. Healthier individuals need less health care and delay entry into the long-term care system, not only saving dollars, but allowing us to stay in our homes and communities, where we prefer to be.
But there can be barriers to staying as involved as we would like to be. Employers will need to set aside long-held stereotypes about older workers and embrace this single largest pool of qualified employees. Many may need to alter their business models to provide the types of jobs, flexibility and opportunities that workers like me value most. Businesses also must learn ways to support working caregivers as our generation finds itself reaching retirement age while still providing care for our parents and loved ones.
Similarly, volunteer organizations not only will have a larger audience to serve, but also will have a new, broad and diverse potential volunteer base. Among the age groups, volunteers age 65 and older devote the most time - a median of 88 hours per year - to volunteer activities. However, our generation of older volunteers has different values than the generation before us and will seek volunteer opportunities that fit those values. We want to see immediate outcomes of our work, we look for projects that may be more flexible and short term in length, and we want to feel as though our contributions make a difference in the lives of others.
Many older adults are turning to education either to hone their job skills or for personal enrichment. Baby boomers represent nearly 20 percent of all students in higher education over the past decade. Through Ohio's college and university programs, such as Program 60, Senior Audit, 60-Plus and SAGE, older adults can take free classes, paying only for their books and supplies. Older Ohioans also are turning to other educational opportunities available at Ohio's senior centers, Lifelong Learning Institutes, the Adult Workforce Education and Training Network, parks and recreation programs and The Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel. These educational opportunities not only engage the mind, they also help us learn new skills or update existing ones to remain competitive in work and volunteering.
My four years with the Department of Aging have been a great gift. I have developed a lifelong passion for the work we do and for those we serve, and have learned that one significant contribution I can make is to age well by staying active and involved myself. And I intend to do just that, as I find new and different venues to continue to advocate for quality of life and personal choice for older Ohioans and adults with disabilities.