Sat, Dec 13, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Of the right age, but cannot seem to stay retired

Despite more people being of retirement age in the US than at any time since the 1960s, financial need and the desire for new challenges are changing how seniors approach the milestone

By Elizabeth Olson  /  NY Times News Service

Illustration: June Hsu

Suzy Boerboom, a registered nurse, retired — for the first time — after a 35-year career in healthcare and ownership of several Curves exercise franchises. She then devoted five years helping her three daughters raise their children.

“I was very close to both my grandmothers and I wanted the same relationship with my grandchildren,” Boerboom said

However, after several years, she felt too restless to retire, she said.

“I just didn’t feel relevant,” said Boerboom, now 66 years old. “I was beginning to feel a little bored and a bit out of the mainstream.”

So in 2009, she started Welcyon, Fitness After 50, a health club business that aims to help older people become fit and stay that way. Boerboom, working with her husband, Tom, from their Edina, Minnesota, headquarters, is now busy franchising the centers.

Boerboom said she “failed” at retirement, joining a group of people who sometimes are labeled workaholics or, more kindly, “driven achievers,” who work simply because they love it. For many, the “ideal retirement includes work in some capacity,” said Ken Dychtwald, founder and chief executive of Age Wave, a group that researches the aging population.

Many retirement dropouts are high-fliers who land right back in the executive mix. Of course, many over 55 work to pay the bills, but others just want to keep busy, so they help a family member’s business.

These workers are swelling the ranks of the workforce ages 55 years and older. There are more people in the retirement-age workforce than at any time since the 1960s, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has found. About 33 million seniors are employed, up 49 percent from the 23 million such workers a decade ago, according to government data.

This is a reversal from the 1950s when, benefiting from social security and company pensions, people began retiring at earlier ages than ever before. In 1960, according to bureau statistics, only about 40 percent of workers over 55 were in the labor force compared with nearly twice as many, or 80 percent, in 1900, an era when relatively few people ever left work unless they had to because of illness or physical disability.

By the 1970s, the percentage of the upper-age labor force fell even further, to the 30 percent range. However, it began climbing back up again in the late 2000s, spurred by the economic collapse in 2008. This year, the 55-and-older segment returned to 1960s levels of about 40 percent, as many people work to rebuild their retirement savings or supplement their social security payments.

However, financial need and the desire for new challenges are not the only factors driving how workers approach retirement. People are looking at decades, instead of years, of retirement, and they are rethinking traditional pastimes like travel, golf and bridge.

As a result, a preponderance of the people in their 50s want to work in some capacity. Dychtwald said that three quarters of those older than 50, queried in a recent study by Age Wave and Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management, said they wanted to work. The Work in Retirement: Myths and Motivations study, which was conducted in March last year, found that about two years before retirement, more than half of those who plan to work after age 55 are taking “substantial steps” to prepare for their next work experience, which could include updating their skills or looking to expand a hobby, and about 54 percent felt financially prepared for retirement.

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