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Older and still toiling

Resource type: News

The Boston Herald |

by TENLEY WOODMAN Gone are the golden days of retirement spent playing golf or spoiling the grandchildren. A sluggish economy and higher costs for food, utilities and health care has Americans 65 years and older saturating in the work force in growing numbers to make ends meet, data show. Most telling among a variety of statistics: about 70 percent of people who turned 65 in 2007 remained on the job, compared to 55 percent in 1994 and 60 percent in 2000, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. “I think the economy is having a significant impact on people’s decision to both retire or needing to come back to the work force,” said Deborah Russell, director of work-force issues for AARP. “Seventy percent of boomers plan on staying in the workplace beyond traditional retirement age (65). Also it’s a reinvention of retirement that will include working,” said Russell. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people age 55 and over will account for more than 90 percent of the growing work force within the next decade. In Massachusetts, according to a report prepared by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, the rate of labor force participation by those ages 55 and older in Massachusetts is above that of the rest of the nation, 40.7 percent to 36.4 percent. According to 2007 statistics from the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, 66.5 percent of Massachusetts residents ages 55 to 64 are currently employed. “It’s depressing,” said Susan Buffum, 50, of Westfield. “You are working and you aren’t getting anywhere. This is America. You want the American dream. “It’s like the American dream is turning into the American nightmare,” she added. Buffum and her husband, also 50, are juggling saving for future retirement, day-to-day expenses, and the anticipated expense of sending their daughter to college in the fall of 2009. “We plan to keep on working until her debts are paid. I went back to work full time from part time and it is helping but it is still difficult,” said Buffum. “(Our daughter) is looking at Smith (College). She wants to go into engineering. These schools are $35,000 to $40,000 a year. “We weren’t getting raises where I work and my husband hasn’t gotten a raise and the price of things have gone up. There’s not enough for anything extra,” said Buffum, a medical secretary. Russell said these stressors are not uncommon. “When asked why they were working past 65, many said it was because of health care and money. In terms of downturns of the economy, the only other time when this was an issue was the late 1990s when the stock market was plummeting. So many people’s pensions are driven by the stock market,” Russell said. The poor economic climate has caused small-business owner Susan Rummel, 61, of Danvers, to suspend retirement. “I’m literally living hand to mouth,” said Rummel, owner of Sue Rummel Custom Draperies from the Carriage House. Inflation has hit Rummel hard. “The economy was taking my other income away because people weren’t getting luxury things like designer drapes. My planner suggests I take Social Security at 62,” said Rummel, who will start collecting in January 2009. Braintree-based certified financial planner Edward Lizzote said many have accepted part-time jobs as part of their long-term income plan. “This is a group that is completely different from the generation 10 years ago that retired, because now during the first 15 years of retirement they are much healthier,” said Lizzote, who has 21 years of experience. The average pension for people age 65 and over is $10,080, according to AARP. Lizzote said Social Security benefits average between $1,100 and $2,300 per month. Eve Sullivan, 66, of Cambridge, said she is opting to stay in the work force another three years so she can afford to fulfill her lifestyle. “I love to travel and my financial planner told me not to retire yet because I wouldn’t be able to afford my travels,” said Sullivan, who hopes to visit India. Sullivan, an editorial assitant for an MIT physics magazine, said she considers her situation lucky. “I’m 66 and I’ve had the same job for over 20 years and it’s a 30-hour (per week) job so it is sort of edging into retirement as it is now,” she said. “Most of my age-mates who have retired in recent years said they are having a hard time and have a hard time finding work.”

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