I commend The Working Waterfront’s December/January editorial (“Problem to solve? Put the old[er] folks on it”) for praising two entrepreneurial retirees, Richard Cadwgan and Frank Mundo, who founded WindowDressers to help Mainers reduce their heating costs by insulating windows. But the editorial is marred by negative stereotypes:

“…people in their 60s and 70s don’t start businesses, don’t serve as a skilled labor pool and don’t start families to boost schools and community vitality.”

In your view, we are a big problem and the only silver lining is that we volunteer. Such stereotypes are false and feed age discrimination, which is a big problem. 

True, we are not having children, but many of us are grandparents or foster parents raising children. If it takes a village to raise a child, we are a significant part of that village. That is how we contribute to community vitality and in the long run the economy. 

We are not a skilled labor pool? When was the last time you hired a plumber or electrician? How old is the best auto mechanic you know? We face is a critical shortage of young people learning those skills, not a shortage of skilled elders.

We don’t start businesses? Richard Cadwgan and Frank Mundo are, above all, entrepreneurs.  They chose to put their entrepreneurial talents to work building a not-for-profit. Judging from their success, I am sure they could have created a successful profit-making business. Among the skills that people in their 60s and 70s have is precisely experience building and running small businesses. Starting businesses is a lot like learning languages. The more you have started and run, the easier it is to start and run the next one.

We should encourage people in their 60’s and 70’s to start businesses. They are often free of big financial demands like college tuition, student loans and mortgages. They have retirement income to support themselves through the lean early years of a new venture. Their younger employees may take over the businesses or learn the skills they need to start their own. One of my former employees has done just that and she credits her experience in my business with giving her the confidence to believe she could build her own.

Baby boomers are living longer than earlier generations and are reinventing retirement, making it a more active phase of life. Many of us benefited from the low cost of college and the growing economy of post-World War II America, and when we die, we will participate in the greatest transfer of wealth in American history.

Let’s be inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of the people who built WindowDressers. Let’s use our experience, skills and some of our wealth to build Maine’s economy now. Start a new venture, hire younger people even if their skills are not perfect, teach them and push them into responsibility and leadership. Don’t make our communities wait until we die to benefit from what we have to offer.

Maine does have the oldest population in the United States and research shows an aging population is a drain on economic growth. But research also shows that older societies invest more in human capital, which boosts the earning capacity of younger workers and grows the economy. If people in their 60s and 70s stay in the workforce and pay into Social Security as long as possible, that will further reduce the economic drain of an aging population. 

Age discrimination damages Maine’s economy if it reduces either the size or productivity of the workforce. It also hurts people, whether they are 60 and cannot find a job after a long and successful work history, or they are young people who are often told they lack necessary job skills or are too young for leadership positions. We cannot afford to waste the talents of any group if we are going to make our village truly prosper.

Marcia Cleveland lives on Vinalhaven.