“Work Till You Drop” in Retirement Years? Experts Say Not Always Bad

“Work Till You Drop” in Retirement Years? Experts Say Not Always Bad

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Photo: Shown are successful graduates of the federal jobs program for low-income seniors—a program cut in half since 2011. (Photos: Senior Service America) 

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- Four thousand scientists from more than 30 countries will share the latest studies in medical, care taking, diverse cultures, business and many other aging related topics. 

Will today’s employees age with too little money for retirement and have to "work till they drop"? That worry was the focus of experts on older workers who spoke on a panel at the Gerontological Society of America’s annual convention in Washington, D.C., in November.

The experts broke the myth that younger generations may have to postpone retirement until the very end of their lives because of the lack of financial security. The good news is that we may have to work longer than our parents, but most of us will still be able to enjoy retiring, sooner or later.

Social Security--Is Secure

In recent years, talks about the possible bankruptcy of the Social Security system has made many people believe that they may have to retire late--or never.

Sara Rix, senior strategic policy advisor of the Economics Team of the AARP Public Policy Institute, in Washington, D.C., said while the Social Security program is in good financial shape, it is only one income source. Some studies of retirement security have shown concern about the future is not completely unfounded.

In 2013, Rix said, 49 percent of Americans ages 40-59 had no income source in retirement, besides Social Security.

For those ages 65 and older, four in 10 seniors (39 percent) 65 or older in the United States had no other source of retirement income than Social Security in 2012.

A major trend in recent years has been a sharp increase in the proportion of older people continuing to work. Back in 1985, 18.4 percent of those ages 65-69 were still working. But by 2013, that jumped to 32.2 percent.

A key reason for them to stay on the job was the Great Recession, which hit retirement savings for many. Among others over the years was that in the early 1990s Congress removed a special tax on earnings for workers in that age group, who also took Social Security. But participation in the workforce, even for those over age 70, who were not subject to that extra tax--also jumped from 6.7 percent to 12 percent in the same period.

Researches have also found that things may not be as bad as they seem. A new study released this year found although nearly a quarter (23 percent) of people 65-plus had said in a previous survey that they expected to postpone their retirement, only 11 percent really did so. Among those 66-69, 11 percent planned to postpone retirement and only seven percent eventually did.

Half of Boomers Have Too Little

In addition, said Rix, 71 percent of Americans now 65-69 are financially ready for retirement--with almost all in this group having enough to leave some inheritance by the time they die.

However, she stressed, if the huge boomer generation, 78 million people born from 1946 through 1964, does not do more to prepare for retirement, half will have to lower their living standard after retirement just to get by.

In summarizing this research, Rix remarked that the common phrase, "Work till you drop," is only a small exaggeration. Most people, without sufficient savings beyond Social Security, would have to work longer than their parents' generation did.

Late retirement puts the job market for seniors in the spotlight. Anthony Sarmiento, executive director of Senior Service America, based in Silver Spring, Md., noted that the only federal program helping low-income or unemployed seniors find jobs is the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP).

Sarmiento, whose organizations runs SCSEP programs in several states, explained that the federally-funded employment and training program serves people ages 55-plus with incomes below 125 percent of the poverty line.

Yet, he said, SCSEP saw it’s funding cut in half in 2011, and the program’s financing stagnated since then, with local programs around the nation seeing long waiting lists. In 2015, the government will cut SCSEP funding almost two percent more.

Karyne Jones, president and CEO of National Caucus and Center on Black Aging, in Washington, D.C., said the situation is worse for minority seniors. Some of them have been taking on odd jobs in their whole life and, therefore, have no Social Security. She knows people in their 80s who are looking for jobs.

Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, said not every senior who keeps working does so for financial reasons. Some just like the feeling of working and believe that's the best way to make their later life feel worthwhile. So senior employment services should not only focus on finding them a job, but also finding them quality jobs suitable to them.

Rong Xiaoqing wrote this story in Chinese for Sing Tao Daily (New York) supported by the Journalists in Aging Fellows program, a project of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, sponsored by the Silver Century Foundation