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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What stopped you from retiring and volunteering your time?
This article is about having to work when you otherwise wouldn't be. Why is it so many people are dancing around the reason why?
JerseyGrammy doesn't get it.
Apparently, there should be no shame that comes with your generation squandering the wealth and opportunities for a great life that were provided to you. No. You want t blame the go else where.
So while you old people who SHOULD have retired, but choose to continue working lament in the shackles you placed upon yourselves. Please, please ignore our extremely under-employed youth. You know. The people who are supposed to foot the bill for your healthcare as you in vain attempt to prevent the inevitable at any cost. The people who are supposed to stand up and lead this nation should strap on the ridiculous college debt you've asked of them and take their place at the back of the unemployment line. They should get damn near 0% interest on the money they make while inflation eats 4-5% of it's value. They should sit from their parent’s basements and watch while a gluttony of homes you built sit and waste away because your generation thought it would be a good idea to turn a home into a ponzi scheme.
It's about time the old people in this country stop thinking about themselves and the few years they have left and start thinking about the people who have a life to live under the circumstances their poor decision making has provided. (go ahead and compare what we spend on your medicare and medicaid to say educating our youth)
To your dying breath, please keep working and a job that would otherwise have gone to a young man or woman trying to build a family so that future generations prosper. You squandered your opportunities. You made the bed, now go lay in it.
I never really expected to be able to retire and I really don't want to. I would like to get to a point where I can work less.
In reading all the negative posts from other posters I have to say something.
I am in my late 50s and live in the most expensive city but this is where the jobs are. Thanks to greedy Wall Street I could have retired years ago but don't have enough to retire on comfortably ... rising food prices, gas prices, rents and taxes have taken a toll on our budget no matter how careful we are ... no wonder much older people than I have to work! This is not due to poor financial managment. They are not taking away jobs from younger workers. Outsourcing jobs to foreign countries such as India, China and Pakistan and other corporate foibles such as this are hindering jobs growth ... not older folk ... if these nay-sayers are looking for a scapegoat try looking at outsourcing and not older workers. It is very tough for older workers to find work these days which is discrimination in favor of younger and cheaper workers.
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.
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