At the age of 67, when most seniors are planning their retirement adventures and looking forward to time with family, Hubert Elliott took a part-time job with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). Thirteen years later, he’s working full-time at the age of 80.
Elliott is one of a growing number of seniors opting to work past the age of 65.
The U.S. Census Bureau shows that the number of employed senior citizens increased from 11.4% in 1990 to 16.2% in 2010. That percentage is expected to significantly increase as more baby boomers approach retirement age.
“I just try to do the best I can,” Elliot said in an interview with NCDOT (link is PDF). During his work week, he hauls dirt, asphalt, gravel, and other materials. In the winter, he is part of the crew that helps keep roads throughout the state clear and safe. Elliot attributes working and staying active to his ability to remain active. “As long as you keep working,” he said, “you’ll be alright.”
The federal retirement age has gradually shifted. For those born prior to 1938, the retirement age was 65; those born in 1960 and later years have an official retirement age of 67.
Some seniors continue working because they have a job they love. Others are reluctant to leave behind the security that comes from a regular paycheck or health coverage, while still others are working because they were adversely affected by economic conditions. Some were laid off, others found the economy had eroded their pensions or retirement.
Jack Broom, writing in The Seattle Times, discovered:
In some professions, such as teaching, veteran workers staying on the job reduce the number of openings for new candidates. And in some entry-level jobs, such as fast-food restaurants and coffee houses, senior citizens are doing work that used to be done by teenagers.
Reuters found that some of these boomers are reinventing work by embracing entrepreneurship after the age of 50. In profiling several individuals who have started businesses, Lou Carlozo found that some “had to think creatively [to] start their businesses.” One used seed money from a child’s college fund; another, who was unable to afford some essential services needed to start the business, provided a percentage of her business to circumvent a lack of capital.
Franny Martin, for example, left a marketing job with Domino’s Pizza when she was 56 to start Martin’s Cookies on Call. The Douglas, Michigan-based company had more than $700,000 in sales during 2011. Martin is branching out into offering a “scoop ‘n’ bake” cookie dough to customers.
Wally Blume started Denali Flavors at the age of 57. He is 73 now, and his company provides ice-cream ingredients and flavors for independent dairies, with annual sales between $80 and $100 million. Much of this was built upon the success of Moose Tracks, a flavoring which he developed.
To be successful, “You have to figure out if there’s a niche you can take advantage of,” Blume told Carlozo. “All our partners knew the industry and had been in it all our working lives.”
But other boomers are working out of necessity. Joy LaJeret told The Seattle Times that she continues working a string of part-time jobs while trying to find full-time employment, encountering age-bias in the process. She says:
They don’t come right out and say, ‘You’re too old.’ But they might say something subtle such as: ‘We’re looking for someone who would grow with the company.’ She’s even heard this: ‘With all your experience, you’d probably be bored with a job like this.’
This challenge compounds problems for older workers. This age group has a lower unemployment rate than the overall workforce, but when they lose jobs, finding a new position takes them much longer than individuals in other demographic groups.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics put the national unemployment rate, not the seasonally adjusted rate, for 65-plus workers in November 2011 at 6.7%, while overall unemployment was 8.2%. It took them 62.7 weeks on average to find a new job. On average, it took U.S. job seekers 41.1 weeks to find a job.
However, mature workers are valued by many employers because they are dependable, have a positive attitude, and are able to work flexible hours. Jeffrey Blosser, chief executive officer, Washington State Convention Center, estimates about 17% of his organization’s staff are in the 65-plus age group. He says:
They bring a wealth of life experience and that benefits us. […] We get a lot of great reviews from our clients about how friendly our staff is. [...] They like to be helpful and it shows.