4/11/2012 4:01 PM ET|
Will you need a job when you're 75?
Disappearing pensions, an uncertain economy and shrinking home values are keeping many seniors in the workforce -- or bringing them back.
After Ailika Thomas woke up from a snooze, her husband brought her coffee in bed. It was 7 p.m., and the 73-year-old was facing a long, moonlit drive from her rural Indiana home to Chicago; Dean wanted to make the journey as easy as possible for his wife. As she dressed, he warmed the car (a red Buick named Carmen) and stocked it with snacks -- containers of sugar peas, blueberries and her favorite, raw turnips. When Ailika emerged from the back door in a pink-and-white pants combo accompanied by her two Yorkshire terriers, Dean gave her a warm goodbye kiss and made her promise to call at journey's end.
It was a touching scene, but a familiar routine: Thomas' destination was her job. Five nights a week, she drives 90 minutes each way to work the midnight shift as a research supervisor for a big company downtown.
Thomas can't afford to retire. She's not complaining. The job keeps her connected, the benefits are generous, and there's still time to volunteer at downtown theaters and enjoy camping trips with Dean. But the commute! Sometimes, even the latest Dean Koontz thriller on tape can't keep her awake. She mists her face with a water fan, gulps 5-Hour Energy shots (bought by the case at Costco) and yells in the car. When the urge to nod off proves irresistible, she pulls off the interstate and naps in a supermarket parking lot.
Some might suggest that after 56 years in the labor force (she got her first full-time job in 1956, working for Encyclopaedia Britannica) and nearly two decades at the firm, it's time for Thomas to take it easy. But employers in nearby Michigan City don't pay nearly as well, and good luck finding a new gig when you're 73. Ask how long she'll continue, and Thomas says it's not her call: "I don't know how long God's going to let me live."
Commutes like Thomas' might be rare, but working well into one's eighth decade is a scenario that has become -- seemingly overnight -- relatively commonplace. For millions of workers, retirement has been delayed for years; others say they may never retire. Thanks to the nation's massive asset meltdown -- sagging retirement accounts, plunging property values -- an enormous swath of the population has had to redefine life paths. Older folks who assumed they'd be retired by now are struggling with the need to work long after the passion (not to mention the brain and the body) has started to fade.
The result of all this turmoil is a little-noticed but profound shift in the workforce. Some academics say we may well be reverting to historical norms, returning to pre-New Deal conditions in which most Americans had to work until they, well, dropped. The number of working people over age 65 reached an all-time low in 2001, when just 13% held jobs. Now that rate is rebounding, and fast; last summer, it hit 18%, a level not seen since President John F. Kennedy faced the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Of course, plenty of folks still have enough money to retire comfortably. But many boomers, facing a bipolar stock market and a pathetic return on their savings, feel deeply insecure; in one recent Associated Press survey, one in four predicted they'd never be able to retire. And between those two extremes, millions of workers in their 50s and 60s have quietly given up on the dream of an early retirement or the launch of an "encore" career. Instead, they're resigned to meeting the new demands of a work world they thought they'd bid farewell to. Facebook and LinkedIn? They were supposed to be playthings for the junior executive. Brain exercises? They were pitched as preventive medicine for senility, not a job requirement. Cosmetic surgery? Laughable -- until your career depends on it.
Labor experts say this first wave of delayed retirees will face the biggest challenges. They weren't prepared for the sharp reversal in expectations, or the difficulties of working while elderly -- nor were their employers. But for better or worse, this group is blazing a trail that subsequent generations of workers may wind up walking.
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Wow.. what's happend to the quality of life in this country?
I can remember alot of middle class families that had a decent house, maybe a small cottage at the beach or lake, 3 or 4 kids, 2 cars and nice vacations. All on one income... Now couples have to work 2 jobs each to keep thier heads above water (assuming they can find work)... just sayin'
We are year-round residents of southwest Florida. I am permantly disabled and not active any longer due to severe
arthritis, congestive heart failure, and asthma. I live at home and my husband takes care of the house and helps me
with all the housekeeping duties and most of the cooking. I do not have the ability to stand for longer than 5 minutes
and am in constant pain.
My husband is 76 and works 12 hour shifts as a caregiver for terminal patients. He often is responsible for
an Alzheimer patient that needs lifting or restraining temporarily. He's a very compassioinate and considerate
man and anyone of his patients will tell you they don't want anyone else caring for them but him.
Does he want to be doing this at 76? NO!
He's love to rest and do a little fishing but he has me and his other patients and his Social Security check of
$1000.00 per month. I get $995 a month from Social Security. That's all we have to our names and we make
car payments of $300 plus car insurance of $75, , utilities of about $275 a month and then we pay $650 per month
lot rent for our mobile home to sit on. Then after that is paid out of our $2000 budget, he and I have gasoline
costs for him commuting to his patients which averages 45 miles per day, 6 days a week and I have to go to
my doctors every 2 weeks for monitoring and Cumadin cnecks and Pacemaker checkups are required every
3 months. I drive round trips for those appointments of 44 miles. We have to keep our car serviced and we
maintain one cell phone reqjuired by his job but paid for by us. That's another $30 every 2 months.
We have to buy groceries and medicines not not covered by our insurance and the meds are $173 per month.
We eat very cheaply because we have to. Necessities are expensive; food is a last resort item.
I can't send my grandkids gifts but they understand. We have 17 grandchildren and 7 adult children; all
married and well employed and they are doing just fine. If we fall behind any given month, two of our sons
come to our rescue because they are doing quite well and can afford to help us. I shudder to think what
we would do if we didn't have them to bail us out.
It's very difficult to live at our age because a lot of things happened in the last 30 years that affected our
retirement plans; not our doing, but it sure hurts. We both work4ed very hard and all of our lives and
here we are.
PS: Neither one of us has ever taken any government subsidy of any kind.
The boomers accomplishments are along the lines of growing up during an age of prosperity after the world war during an economic boom, screwing around at Woodstock, starting up the progressive movement and affirmative action programs, shutting down the Apollo program and never going back to the moon, building up bloated entitlement programs and debt, buying houses you could never afford and living outside of your means, which finally came to a head in 2008 and brought back the start of another Great Depression, brought about by no one else but yourselves.
Remember that frugal, humble and conservative WWII generation, especially you Woodstock liberals who never learned the discipline on how the world really works.
Just read some of the comments. I really take offense of being called an "Olde Geezer". You pompous, snotty brat. That's what's wrong with some younger people "LACK OF RESPECT". I think you need us around to teach you that. I work at a University & thank goodness I have not met any student that treat me disrespectfully. But I have heard some that would like to get rid of all the old people so they can have the job & do better at it.
Grow up you little snots & learn how to respect us "Old Geezers" we can teach you a lot.
I have yet to understand how shrinking home values have any effect on retirement planning. If you stay in your home, it still has the same intrinsic value of a safe haven, if you sell it, whatever home you were planning to move to has most likely also decreased in purchase price to a similar degree. Sure there are 'pockets' of extreme, but they happen regardless of low/high home prices.
Get your home paid for prior to retiring and live in it, it doesn't matter whether the value is $1 or $1million, it still provides the same living environment. The home dollar value in retirement is simply a 'talking point' for financial scare tactics.
You can thank corporate greed for this. They took away our pensions and medical coverage to pad the executives' pockets. I would like to retire and make room for the younger people but it is no longer possible. A few at the top can retire, but not the people who actually did the work and generated the profits. Greed is a terrible disease.
I was laid off 3 years ago and am now 58!
I cant even get a reply to my resume or a job NOW - I sure as hell aint gonna worry about finding one in my 70`s!
Maybe by then I MIGHT get a response for an interview!
As I tell my daughter.... SAVE.... I have been saving the maximum for retirement since I started working... Guess what? I now have enough to retire today.... That's the key...
It s*cks if you get laid off... But I have been lucky in that regard... Work a high stress job... If I tried to do that till I was 75, I would probably have a stroke..
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