Staying on the Job Track
Illustration by Stephen Sauer
Martha Pare, 76, puts the "long" in longevity. A receptionist at a dental office in Claremont, she has logged in more than 45 years at the same job. You might think she is an oddity for staying in the workforce - not to mention the same job - so long when many of her contemporaries have long since left the working world in the rearview mirror. But in reality, Martha Pare is actually a trendsetter.
For Pare, part of the reason for working past the time when others are saying sayonara to the daily grind was that her husband passed away at age 65 after collecting just two Social Security checks. "I was younger - 61 - when he died, and I kept working because it was another income coming through," she says. Pare says that the extra money gives her the freedom to do what she wants with it. In her case, it comes in handy for traveling - most times once a year to Aruba with one of her sons, but last year it was a cruise with her other son.
"I don't have an exciting life, I just live moderately and I always have. I was raised on a farm and never had much. I'm not into rich bags or a high-heeled shoes sort of lady." The supplemental insurance is a factor too, she adds, because even though you get Medicare, the additional insurance helps fill in the gaps.
Like Pare, income and/or health insurance is the main reason that nearly 80 percent of seniors aged 50-plus are working or looking for work today, according to AARP. For some, it's not about wanting to work past retirement, but needing to. According to a Gallup poll, a new low of 38 percent of people who have not yet retired say they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement, down slightly from 42 percent in 2011.
But while the financial incentive is a prime motivator to retirees, working is not always about a paycheck. Having a job also provides a daily structure, a chance to interact socially, a sense of purpose and the opportunity to keep up with or learn new skills. While all that free time in retirement may seem like a dream come true, it may actually backfire when you have too much time on your hands. All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but all play and no work will most likely make Jack a bored boy. For this reason, many seniors stay on the job simply because they want to. In fact, the tendency to work for non-financial reasons increases the older you get, with about two in five people ages 70-plus saying that they work more for pleasure or the desire to be productive, according to AARP.
Working past traditional retirement age in some capacity can also be good for your health. The national Health and Retirement Study suggests that retirees who work, even part-time, are less likely to decline physically - and functionally. They also tend to suffer less from diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, stroke, psychiatric problems and arthritis.
Having meaningful employment for this age bracket - not just any job - makes a big difference in why a person would choose to stay rather than retire. Pare says that if she was at a job that she didn't like, there wouldn't be much incentive to stay there as long as she has. And she's not the only one in the office to think so. "Another gal has been here for 46 years. It's a good office to work in," she says. "I enjoy the people that we have and the people that we work with. It's a lot of fun and I really do enjoy it here."
Pare works four days a week, with Fridays off. It's a short drive from her home in Newport to the office in Claremont. And even at 76, she's not interested in going out of the workforce with a bang - more like a slow fizzle. She says she's thinking of cutting down another day so that someone else can come in to share her job, and she can eventually phase out altogether. But she's in no hurry.
"I like being around people and I don't golf," she says. "I'd probably go to the senior citizens center to play cards if I didn't do this. And there's not much shopping up this way anyway." NH
Ready or Not, Retirement
Baby boomers should know by now that things don't always go as planned. Seniors have seen retirement savings go up in smoke and home values collapse just at the time when they are banking on cashing in on both. And as their financial situation may be decreasing, health care expenses may be increasing. In addition, Social Security and Medicare are not so secure, and plans to strengthen both programs often involve increasing the age at which Americans are eligible for benefits - which could mean that the age at which seniors retire will be even higher in the future.
So it should come as no surprise that while it's all well and good to think seniors are going to work up until traditional retirement age and then part-time thereafter, sometimes it doesn't work out that way. Some seniors have found themselves downsized out of the workforce at (or close to) retirement age, and then they often have a harder time than younger folks finding their way back into the workforce once they're out of a job.
For just this reason, AARP has a new, free service called Work Reimagined to help experienced workers find a new job. It's an interactive networking program for professionals that provides information, leads and personal connections to get back into today's job market. Click here for more information.
Another way seniors have dealt with an "unexpected" retirement is to find their passion and open up their own business. Websites for people who want to be their own boss, like Senior Entrepreneurship Works, can be a valuable resource if that's the case.
According to their website, Senior Entrepreneurship Works is "an entrepreneurial ecosystem" in which seniors can check to see if they have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Then, if they do want to make the leap, the company will connect new and seasoned senior entrepreneurs to one another, as well as other resources that seniors might need to start and maintain a successful business.
If you're concerned you aren't saving enough money to retire when you want, here's a rule of thumb from AARP: If you're 40, you should have the equivalent of twice your current salary in the bank. At 50, four times your salary. At 60, nine. For example, at 60, if you make $50,000, you should have saved $450,000; if you make $70,000, the number should be $630,000.
If you haven't been able to save that much at 60 - mortgages, college tuition and all the other expenses make it difficult - you'll need to work longer or adjust your expectations for retirement. Identify your basic and necessary expenses. Think about what you can cut and put any money you can save into your company's 401k plan or a private IRA.