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SENIOR: Study: Make the most of aging population

The focus had been on attracting creative and educated young people to the region, but a comprehensive seven-county study recently completed by the Northland Foundation offers a different perspective.

The focus had been on attracting creative and educated young people to the region, but a comprehensive seven-county study recently completed by the Northland Foundation offers a different perspective.

The Foundation's research delved into the engagement of adults 55 and older -- an age group not in short supply in northeastern Minnesota.

The Northland Foundation was one of 30 foundations in the country awarded a grant from the Community Experience Partnership, an aging initiative of The Atlantic Philanthropies. With the grant, the Foundation conducted a region-wide study examining older adults' motivations for and barriers to paid employment, lifelong learning and volunteerism.

Foundation staff traveled over 2,300 miles in seven counties, conducted 120 face-to-face interviews, and moderated 10 community focus groups, including groups comprised of American Indian Elders of the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, and Grand Portage Bands. An 11th focus group gathered input from 50 providers of aging services and organizations using volunteers.

The study found that many older adults in the region do not want to or can't afford to stop working at retirement age, yet ageism is perceived as a common barrier to employment. Employers who embrace older employees and incorporate flexible hours, phased retirements, second careers and other accommodations will be less challenged to find qualified people to fill crucial positions in the face of increased competition for the proportionately shrinking number of younger workers.

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Catherine Sampson, director of the Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging, was part of an advisory committee that provided input and guidance to the Foundation during the project.

"I see it as a matter of wise asset management," Sampson said. "We need to recognize and capture the value of the resources we already have -- which include a large number of experienced, knowledgeable, and highly motivated older adults -- for the benefit of our entire region."

Results of the study will provide valuable insight for the Northland Foundation, and organizations and communities across the region and state.

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