Saturday, May 06, 2006

Bold Idea #1: Retiree Corps

My first Bold Idea to Change America is the Retiree Corps.

There are approximately 2 million new Social Security retirees each year. If 50% of them volunteered 20 hours a week that would be 20 million hours of volunteer work a week or 1 billion hours volunteered a year. If you could get the average volunteer to stick around for 3 years, that would be 3 billion hours. Imagine what you could do with this "Retiree Corps" of 6 million volunteers and 3 billion volunteer hours a year. You would have the resources to make a significant impact on the social and environmental issues that challange America.

How can we go about building the Retiree Corps?

The ground works has already been laid with the government's Senior Corps program. It currently has 500,000 volunteers and a $200 million a year budget.

There is also a non-profit organization Civic Ventures that looks really good. Their Experience Corps program is active in 14 cities, and works to solve serious social problems, beginning with literacy. Today more than 1,800 Corps members serve as tutors and mentors to children in urban public schools and after-school programs, where they help teach children to read and develop the confidence and skills to succeed in school and in life.

Now we just need to take these programs to the next level.

The first thing we need to do is make it an expectation of all Americans when they retire that they will volunteer. When you retiree, you get 6 months to go play golf, go traveling or what ever you want to do. Then it is time to get busy for a couple of years to help tackle America's greatest social and environmental issues. It would become another rite of passage. When you retire from your work life, the next phase is a few years of service to America.

If top politicians bought into this and sold it, I think the new retirees would be very receptive. I think many retirees have a lot of spare time and don't know what to do with it.

The next priority would be to make it easy for them to find meaningful and productive positions. As part of signing up to receive social security benefits, there should be a volunteer section. You should be opted in by default. You would get a volunteer counselor that would help you to find an opportunity that fits your desires and skills. The counselor would know what opportunities are available locally and how to get involved. The counselor would prepare the retiree to get the most out of their volunteer experience by setting expectations and explaining the differences between working at a job and volunteering.

What problems should they tackle?

I am a big believer in education and health. These are roles where there is lots of personal interaction that leads to meaningful experiences. It is also two areas where the free market does not work particularly well. Working to improve the environment would also be useful.

I think helping out in schools and acting as mentors would be a great use of time. If you could get these volunteers to help out in the disadvantaged schools, I think it would go a long ways. There are currently 3 million K-12 teachers in the US. If one half of the 6 million volunteers were working in schools, each teacher could be assigned a Retiree Corp volunteer to help out in their classes. This would be a massive influx of capacity to help out.

There is lots of talk about the growing expense of social security and how we will (or won't) be able to pay for it. But instead of tackling the problem from the expense side, maybe we should look at it from the other side and ask what the retirees can give back to the country. If significant numbers could help out with education and health, this would lower the cost to the government of providing these services.

The Retiree Corp with its 6 million volunteers and 3 billion hours a year will help tackle America's social and environmental issues and radically change America for the better.

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