Highlights from this week’s conversation include:
Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit abundantagingpodcast.com.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 00:07
Hello and welcome to The Art of aging part of the abundant aging podcast series from United Church homes. On this show, we look at what it means to age in America and in other places around the world with positive and empowering conversations that challenge, encourage and inspire all to age with abundance. I am so pleased Our guest today is with white. Elizabeth has risen to recent fame through her role as an author and an advocate in the aging space. Her book 55, underemployed and faking normal documents her struggle and the struggle of many that are over the age of 50, to find meaningful, sustained employment, and it launched her advocacy for ending ageism, and being a champion for older workers. We can now add the word entrepreneur to her accomplishments with her launch of NuuAge co living, a developing concept and community living that aims to serve the middle market, middle market and middle income market in a way that supports Abundant Living and aging. So definitely it can kindred spirit to what we’re doing here at United Church Jones. Elizabeth holds advanced degrees from Harvard and John Hopkins and as a distinguished employee history that of course, includes her work today. Welcome, Elizabeth. No, thank
Elizabeth White 01:27
you so much for having me. Yeah, it’s
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 01:30
great to be with you. And you are actually helping me kick off the new year. This is the first podcast we’re recording in 2024. So let’s start where it matters most. Let’s start where does your passion for this topic come from? When I did a high level overview, but from your words, and helping to share your passion, can you share the part of the story that you’d like our listeners to know about today that’s launched your work.
Elizabeth White 02:01
So it comes from my own lived experience, I’m someone who for many years was doing really well. And then during the Great Recession of 2008, nine, slipped on a banana peel, and lost two big consulting jobs that I’d had for a long time. I was sort of mid 50s, then I have the credentials that you described, not worried, always enabled, mind worked. And suddenly, in my mid 50s, my phone was not ringing. And women taught I had one of my friends is an award winning Emmy award winning producer, she was in finding work, somebody who had been very senior in the government was not finding work. And at a point of really despair, I wrote an essay describing what is it like to land here, when you are you feel sort of face pressed up against the glass, looking in at a life that used to be yours, but now you can’t afford that life, and wondering if you will ever get back. And that essay made its way to the PBS Facebook page, and in a matter of days had 1000s and 1000s of responses and went viral. And it was a lot of me too, that this is my husband or my sister or myself. And why aren’t we having a conversation about this? And my educational background allows me to look at the data. And what I thought was just a challenge that I was facing and a few friends, I began to understand that millions of middle class Americans are also struggling. So these would be people who earn too much to get any government assistance, but don’t make enough, for example, to afford market rate housing for older adults. And that sort of started me on a path.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 04:18
Yeah. So I think that’s probably the link then from you’re talking about your book and your advocacy. About ageism in the workplace to housing. So talk a little bit more about where you’ve ended up, from employment to housing.
Elizabeth White 04:43
So the journey was I did this essay and what happens when you do an essay that goes viral is that people find your email address. So in the comments, they may write three or four sentences, but in their emails to me, it would be a page and a half single space of what had happened. And then what happened, somebody will say I live in DC, they’ll say, I’m gonna be in Washington, can you have a coffee and I got more and more involved in hearing stories. And that’s how my first self published book was born. I had seen a lot of books that were sort of, you know, kind of Think Tank, Brookings Institute wrote about the retirement income crisis. And it was geared towards, you know, legislators, but there was nothing that if you personally landed here, if you were facing this, if this happened to you, there was not that book and all that you feel a sense of failure and fear, nobody had written that book. So I, as I spoke with people, started to share not just my story, but the stories of many others, men and women. And men in particular, I wanted them to tell their own story, because when men land here, particularly for white men, ageism is often the first time they’ve experienced any kind of Islam. When we’re on site, people have a negative opinion of you. And so I asked men that I was encountering in my book to actually write the stories in their own words, and then I edited it for length. So that then led to a book deal with Simon and Schuster, because one of the things when you self publish, it’s harder to get into libraries. Many libraries don’t take self published books and for my audience, people needed to be able to get the book in the library. And then there were some independent bookstores that don’t take self published books and on it with, so when Simon and Schuster gave me an opportunity to update the data and relaunch it, and gave it a bigger audience. And also at that time, I did a TEDx talk, then the TED people approached me about taking the TEDx talk, and moving it to the main TED stage, which then blew up in numbers, it’s now got over 2 million views. So all these things were happening simultaneously. I am someone, I throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall, and you don’t know what’s gonna land. And I’m also someone who has friends across the age spectrum from early 30s, to into their 90s. My younger friends, in some ways, are more plugged in. In terms of who are the rising stars, what are the trends, where are the work opportunities, entrepreneurial opportunities, etc. And a friend and colleague, many years younger, decades younger, said to me there is this startup studio, that they will fund ideas, and they will significantly support these ideas you should apply. So of course, I’m 68. At the time, I had been an entrepreneur before and I know exactly the heavy lift that is, and then I thought, I’m going to try it. So it had four rounds of interviews. And when I was told that I had made it from the second to the third round, and that now I’m a serious contender, I thought, let me pull my socks up here and really focus on this. And so two years ago, I was told that I was accepted. So there were five of us, where this is idea 42, and they invested about 800,000 to a million dollars per person in your idea. And I was the oldest by far. I felt a little bit like Grandma Moses there. Everybody was, you know, halfway out. And so it was an opportunity to look at how I had been sounding the alarm and advocating, what would I do if I wanted to work on the solution side. And what I was hearing, as I went around the country, talking to people was about housing. Because housing is often our biggest expense. It is sort of foundational in terms of our health and well being. And though many people want to age at home, many of our homes are not suited, you know, from a half step away or they don’t have a bathroom on the main floor or they’re just not affordable or something’s happened to the neighborhood. So a lot of people want to age at home. It’s something like only 4% of the US housing stock is actually suitable for doing that. So I thought, let me think about housing And I was also thinking about the number of people who are aging, alone, and meaning, possibly never married, divorced, maybe widowed, or maybe they even have children. But their children are not in a position to help them. You know, I think about when I was growing up, and my grandfather died, I was a little girl, my grandmother came to live with my family for 25 years. She lived with us. Nowadays, in many families, there’s no place to put Nana, there’s no money to support Nana, and also, you know, the rest of the family. So you have a lot of people who maybe do have children, but they’re still in many ways aging alone. So that got me thinking about the housing situation, the aging alone, the affordability, the loneliness epidemic that we’re facing, and is there a way to kind of hit on and address all of those. So Elizabeth,
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 11:02
you are really doing your own research, right? You know that that’s the qualitative research in capturing the stories and kind of sifting through and helping to identify the common pieces so that your observation about white men who find themselves in the situation is really very interesting. Actually, a couple of individuals come to my mind immediately, and I haven’t thought about that aspect, thinking about individuals who find themselves alone. And they think I know where you’re going a little bit with this. But aging is not a solo sport. And we need to have, you know, to use the sports metaphor, we need to have teams of people around us in varying levels of proximity and relationships. So what I hear you talking about is kind of combining that with this foundational literally, and figuratively meet for housing. So, so where are you in, in the journey then, in finding solutions, because that’s what you’re working on. So what
Elizabeth White 12:16
the ideas 42 Venture studio did then is suddenly I had resources to hire experts. I could hire architects, I could hire people who knew real estate, I could hire people who knew shared housing, I could go to Amsterdam to the CO living conference where they, the Europeans are really big on this, and start to understand and think about best practice we do co living in the US, but often that’s for millennials. and in Europe, I found there was much more of a community aspect here. It’s almost like the total living is a perch. And then the younger person really lives in the neighborhood, but it’s almost like an extension of a dorm living from college. And I wanted to see if I could do something more if I could. Rather than have sort of dorm rooms around a shared living space, could we actually have private quarters, smaller ones but around a shared living space, so that in your private quarters, you do have a sitting area, sleeping area, you have an ensuite bathroom, there’s like a kitchenette. So if you wanted to do grilled cheese and some tomato soup, you could do that in there if you did not want to cook in the larger kitchen, which is in the shared space. So I have been designing this working with architects, here and overseas, and sort of have like now an initial concept of what this could look like. And then down start thinking about where could it wanting it to be in an area that is amenitized to some extent, so that there is a grocery store, there is a library, there is a coffee shop or a yoga studio, and then figuring out how to do that if you do it in a major city. It becomes really expensive in terms of all the you know, getting the land and building there. So lately I’ve been looking at sort of some small towns that are near big cities and where there are amenities there and their restaurants there and an outdoor market and there may be an hour away from the big city so you can go out there live and then pop into the metropolitan area if there’s some play or something that you want to see. So all of this is what I’m doing. I’m working out. And I’ve got funding support to really flesh out these ideas and to develop an investment package that would allow me then to talk to developers, because I’m very interested in what the older adults tell me, I want to be an island old person who wants to be in the mix. And so kind of thinking about, is there a development where there are maybe on some of the floors? You know, it’s multifamily housing, and then I have two or three floors where this concept is there, and sort of figuring out what kind of amenities might even be in there. You know, I’ve had people talk to me about, could there be a clinic on one floor? Or could there be, you know, some sort of eatery? And then how do you bring the outdoors edge? Should it only be available to people in the building? Or is there a way of integrating the community around it? So these are all the conversations that I’m having. Now with the base of our drawings, there is a team, you know, we’re continuing to talk, there is some funding to get me to this next level. So it is, like, turning 70, as much. So
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 16:21
Elizabeth White 16:25
And in fact, the plus 50 entrepreneurs were one of the fastest growing segments. I think people don’t know that. But we are.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 16:34
And you’re also in terms of a cohort, and the most successful and entrepreneurship part of that, which Yeah, yeah, I think after five years, if you’re over 15, have started a business, you’re more likely to still be in business than those who are younger. Absolutely. So what does the individual look like in your mind that you think would be attractive, and that you’re going to be looking towards inviting to be in the spaces. So I’m thinking of
Elizabeth White 17:08
sort of late 50s to middle seven days, I’m thinking of people who are in reasonably good health may have a chronic condition or two, but they’re managing it with medication, I’m thinking that they are aging alone, as defined earlier, which could mean children, but not children who can help, they may still be working part time, I think one of the sort of realities is if you make it to 60, in this country, in reasonably good health, you’re going to live well into your 80s. And so when you think about retiring at 65, you may have 20 more years that you have to fund. So we haven’t really gotten around. I am around that 65 is not realistic for a lot of people. And they may not be working full time, but they may need to supplement Social Security, or if they have a small pension or savings. So this person might be working and maybe part of a chosen family. So may not, you know, have as a solo Ager, the sort of traditional family support that has, at this point, developed a strong network of friends, that kind of act as that sort of alternative, chosen family. And then would be, you know, sort of, I would say income kind of in the 45 to maybe 65,000 A year range. Yeah,
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 18:52
absolutely. You know, and I’m just so impressed and aware of how holistically you’re thinking about all of this, in terms of not only the physical environment, but in not only the amenities, but the realities of what life looks like past one’s primary career. That, you know, Richard Eisenberg says the only thing retirement tells you is that somebody used to work. And that’s not a life phase. And obviously, there are many who are in this middle income, who may need to work periodically, part time or full time for financial reasons. But I think one of the things that we’re coming as a culture into the awareness is that individuals who continue again, post primary career to be engaged in employment, that sometimes it’s not about the money but it’s about meaning and purpose and recognizing that, you know, we still have things to contribute and that this That that is as important to one’s well being as having the housing and access to the all the other aspects of care around us.
Elizabeth White 20:11
No, I totally agree. And I have to shout out Richard Eisenberg. Because when I wrote my essay and was in despair, he was the one who published it and got it really out there. So he’s been a big support, you know, from the beginning. And had he not taken the chance on that essay? You and I might not be sitting here talking.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 20:34
Yeah. And he now calls himself unretired. I enrolled? Yeah. So. So, you know, they’re all kinds of creative ways for us to define what this period of life is going to be like. So what are your biggest, biggest obstacles in creating this is really taking this concept of CO housing in this country, for older adults forward, because it’s really not one that people think about much. You know, like you said, it’s pretty typical for younger adults, I know my, I have an adult child who lives in a cohousing situation in Washington, DC, because that was all she could afford when she was starting out. And quite frankly, the thought of having to replicate kind of what she did in your 20s, for me, and my 70s is not really appealing. So there have to be some differences there. But what are the biggest obstacles that you see in helping to define what this is and to attract other people to imagine this possibility? I think that,
Elizabeth White 21:47
You know, we live in a country that we’re very focused on as individuals, we’re focused on, you know, defining achievement a certain way we’re, we don’t like to talk about when we are struggling. And so there’s a certain amount of shame that’s out there around, you know, everybody needs their own snowblower everybody needs their own car. And, you know, this sort of way of living is actually like, it’s not that many years of the nuclear family, there was an extended family before, that was many more years of families kind of living near each other. And now, kind of, I think we have much more of an example of sort of chosen family, when you look at the data, you know, we will remember, you know, Leave It to Beaver, you know, our generation, that household of two adults, and you know, two or more children under 18. That is not the sort of dominant household type anymore. It’s not the first, it’s not the second, the biggest household type right now are individuals who are living alone, followed by two individuals who do not have children. So we’re in a situation where, and we’re living a lot longer, you know, when Social Security was enacted in 1935, the sort of life expectancy was 70. So if you made it to 65, you only had a few years to put together and then you die. Now, you’ve got a lot of years, and it’s going to be hard for us, for many middle class Americans to do this by themselves. So how do you strike the balance in the housing for the privacy that we’re used to, and the community that we need? And so that’s why I have really resisted, I’ve had a few Oh, no, we just put people in dorm rooms, that is not going to work for me there. I am used to having a certain space with certain options in that space. And so designing something that strikes that balance. And so sometimes you don’t know what you want, until you’ve seen it. You didn’t know you needed an Apple Watch. Or you see it. So one of the challenges is finding that developer who actually sees this issue and wants to do something different. And I’m confident that they’re out there. Whenever I’m speaking to someone you can see across their face. As I’m talking, they’re thinking as somebody, Alice Bob, somebody who was in If I have to say, as someone who they used to be fine, and now they’re not fine, it may be their sister, or maybe somebody living in their basement. But this is so dominant, so predominant a problem that everybody is experiencing it. So what I’m wanting to talk to the right developer about is can we change our housing type to include one that includes the new reality that is happening for many Americans. And so I haven’t been out there sort of hard pitching yet, I’m still kind of developing the materials. So I don’t know how hard it will be. What I do know is there’s a lot of interest in what I’m doing. And I’ve had sort of intro conversations with developers who want to stay informed and stay close and hear where I’m landing. So I, what’s important now is getting up, I think, a couple of prototypes that we can then work with and figure out what’s the learning so that when we do this in a much bigger way, because I think this is something that really, all across America, we need this new sort of housing type, for older adults in an intergenerational setting. And so those are the conversations that I’m beginning to have. And really, in about a month and a half, we’ll be having in earnest with developers, those who are seeking me out and those I have identified and want to talk to,
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 26:53
I love your identifying the challenge between our, our need or desire for privatization, and our need for community. And I think that a part of the challenge in the American context for thinking about this kind of a concept, and maybe why it’s a little bit more developed in Europe has to do with American individualism. And we, you know, we, our goal is to grow up to be an adult and to be independent, and individual, and, you know, as we age, we need other people and a variety of ways. And, you know, the dawning that we are interdependent is, I think, key to well-being in later life. And what I hear you describing, in this concept of CO living, is recognizing that interdependence of, and I love the intergenerational component, which you are holding up as being so key, and important in what you’re designing. My mother is one of those persons who, you know, has been a kindergarten teacher for years. And she always said, I am not going to go and live somewhere where there aren’t kids around there. You know, their busyness, their noise doesn’t bother me. And as I actually find it
Elizabeth White 28:25
Now, and one of the things I said earlier is that in my friendship circle, and this is intentional, you know, where I am friends, and I’m intentional about developing those relationships. And at both ends of the spectrum. And I have found young people to be very receptive to you know, I was at a, one of my architects who’s probably 3435 had a party and I missed the part of the party where it said, Everybody’s to come dressed in black. So I get there, of course, I have on brown or something else. I actually went home. I didn’t live that far away. But I went all the way home to change to sort of respect the app because it was a very cool, fun environment. I was the oldest one by far. It was one of the most fun parties I had. I’ve gone for a long time just engaging young people, seeing what they’re talking about and what they’re doing in the world, and it’s energizing in a different way. And so, I want that included in what I’m building.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 29:45
Fantastic. One more question here. And if you could wave a wand and imagine or even in your, in your very practical planning for all of this So what types of technologies? Do you suspect that the prospective residents of CO living would demand or appreciate it? And would it be affordable, given the demographic of who you’re looking for, to move into these communities? So I’m thinking,
Elizabeth White 30:23
and we’ll be looking at sort of ambient technologies that maybe are not so app based. I’ve seen some data that we don’t love that. Love that. And so it’s really explore, you know, there’s so much out there, I want to explore, you know, sort of smart technology for the home smart technology for the, you know, amazing things now that they can monitor in terms of, you know, the way toilets are just measuring whether you’re dehydrated, measuring, whether they’re your their sugar or blood. And sort of, you know, how far do we want to go? You know, the technology and what is affordable? I mean, I, whenever I’m at a conference, and you know, there’s something with all the bells and whistles, I’m sort of the one who raises the question about affordability, but I do see a role and, you know, sort of temperature control and that kind of thing, I do see a role, you know, where I can, I’m doing a big dinner party in our shared space, and I want to be able to look at a monitor, and know that I can’t go into the kitchen until 4pm, because you have something there. So I think there’s, I think there is a way to connect us to what’s happening in the community and a way to, you know, build in some sort of grocery delivery services. And all of that is now happening, is there a way to kind of combine some of those together in a way that’s easier to use. So I don’t see myself as the inventor, she, she, I see myself as the partner with people who are interested in this audience, and are developing technologies that are for us, Jim,
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 32:34
So just as we kind of wrap this up a little bit, Elizabeth, if you were to name, what are the top high central ideas or values that are most important in this work that you’re doing, and that everything else kind of connects with? So it’s we
Elizabeth White 32:55
imagining what it means to be an older person. And in some ways we are making our path by walking. I’m not my grandmother. And we have to make room for all the different paths. So there is that? What does it mean to be an older person today? And unfortunately, the whole successful aging and aging well, often gets tied to how many youthful attributes? Can you manage to hang on to it? Are you still high school skinny? are, you know, can you still climb Mount Everest? Can you still? So I’m interested in it? What do we do? How would we redefine this phase of life as we’re closer to the exit than the entrance? And so that sort of curiosity is there and that sort of welcoming of different paths and exploration of different paths and even borrowing? From what’s happening overseas? What can we learn from there? Another piece is also around the shame that gets sort of associated with no, not having enough money when you’re 65. And our individuality makes us look to self blaming, versus to the systemic issues, changes in the pension plan, et cetera, that have landed so many here. So I don’t want to approach what I’m doing from the deficit side. You know, you can only afford this. I want what I’m Creating to be beautiful to talk about the benefits of coming into this new way of living, and sort of describing that, and holding that for people to see that you don’t have to be isolated. You don’t have to be depressed, you don’t have to live in a place or in a community that you don’t feel connected to. And the last thing I would say is this focus on intergenerational
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 35:39
this sort of
Elizabeth White 35:42
practice and tendency that we have to isolate older people to set us aside to see that we don’t have anything to contribute. I want to push back against that by creating these intergenerational communities that include a place for older people to thrive, that take into account the reality of resources and take into account loneliness issues. So I fully see some sort of co working space in these in work designing or if not there, I have a partnership with someone who’s nearby that offers some kind of discount. So those are the kinds of values that I bring into this.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 36:36
Excellent. Well, thank you very much, Lizabeth. One thing we like to do when we come to the end of our podcast is to ask our guests questions about their own experiences of aging. So may we ask this of you? Are you ready? I wish. But first, just one more thing. Before we get to those questions. How can people connect with you? How can they learn? keep abreast of what you’re doing? Is there a website? Or that you would like to share?
Elizabeth White 37:08
Yes, NuuAge coliving is the website.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 37:12
Thank you. Okay, number question number one, when you think about how you have aged, what do you think has changed about you or grown with you that you really like about yourself?
Elizabeth White 37:26
You know, I was with a group recently, and we were doing what we call pits and cherries, okay. For, you know, as we came out of 2023, and then came into 2024. And one of the things that struck me and I feel the same way is that these were people, they’re all in their 60s 70s 80s, some even in their 90s. People didn’t have regrets. And it’s not because bad things had not happened. There had not been divorces, the strange bit from children, illnesses, et cetera. But everybody liked who they are today. And what they realized, and I think what we realize is that all that has happened, the beautiful and the unbeautiful just created this person that we are today. So it’s nothing we like all of the bad stuff that happened. But the bad stuff, the challenges of overcoming it, how we did what we learned, created, who we are today. And that’s how I feel. So in many ways, this is the happiest time of my life. I am more grounded, more content, this period than I was when I was 40.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 38:56
Excellent. Thank you for sharing. I love those pits and cherries. Okay. Question number two, what has surprised you the most as you’ve aged? I
Elizabeth White 39:06
I think it’s dealing with the physical changes. And I love Pilates. And I do it two, three times a week and she’ll say, Okay, turn around and face the mirror, no matter how fast I think I’m going. I’m always the last one. And even when I try to turn around as fast as I can I look around, they’re all turned around. So they’re just physical things that you expect. And, you know, sometimes you pass a mirror or a window and you catch your reflection and you’re like,
Elizabeth White 40:00
Woman there, because in yourself, you feel like you always did. And sort of, I think we’re coming into a kind of renaissance of older women, which is that we’re in an interesting time. And boomers like us were all elbows and knees on civil rights on women’s rights. We’re all elbows and knees now on how, what it means to age and we’re just not going down without a fight. So this is an interesting time, I think, especially to be a woman where so much is attached to our physical appearance. And we are resisting being shoved off the stage.
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 40:56
Excellent. Yep, absolutely. Absolutely. Okay, here’s the last question. Is there someone that you have met, or who’s been in your life, that set a good example for you in aging, someone that inspires you to age abundantly sweet, we talk about it around here at United Church homes. You know, there’s there actually, many
Elizabeth White 41:18
people, as I mentioned to you, some friends, I turned 70, in December, and some friends hosted a surprise party for me where they got in the room, friends who have been friends for decades. And these are the friends that hold me down. These are the friends that when I’m wobbly, or, you know, remember kind of what I can be and do. And we’re on a journey together, around our health, around how we’re dealing with caretaking some of our children who’ve gone off the rails. And there is for each one, I get a different thing. Later today, one is coming over when I want, you know, hardcore total team Elizabeth, you know, battling for me, she’s the one that she’s one of the ones that I would go to. She’s also going to tell me the truth. Even if I don’t like the truth that she’s telling me and you and I, you need her, I need her. So at this stage, I’m very intentional about friendship. I make the time I do the calls, I have the coffees, I get the groups together for dinner. It’s important. And I know people and what’s happening with them, and they know what’s happening with me. And so that allows why I can’t say there’s like one person. And I can’t say that they’re all women. Some remarkable, older men who are bringing a different perspective to aging. I had a black male friend of mine say to me, that suddenly he’s not threatening that if he gets on the elevator, there was a time he’s used to women kind of clutching their purse. And now with all that gray hair, you know, I could push him out. So you know, and that’s a different sort of interpretation or experience of aging than somebody else might have. So
Rev. Beth Long-Higgins 43:56
Yeah, yeah, I love that inclusivity and the variety of folks that are around you that help you to age abundantly. Well, I want to thank you so much, Elizabeth. And I want to thank all of our listeners as well for hanging in there for this episode of The Art of aging, part of the abundant aging podcast series of United Church homes. We want to hear from you what’s changed about you as you’ve aged that you love? What surprised you most and how do you define abundant aging and who is your abundant aging influencer? Join us at abundantagingpodcast.com to share your ideas. You can also give us feedback when you visit the Ruth Pross Parker Center website at UnitedChurchHomes.com/parker-center. And Elizabeth tells us once again, where can people find you?
Elizabeth White 44:50
You can find me at nuuagecoliving.com And the website has the same name, NuuAge Coliving. Thank you.