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Aging but not out

Seniors find reasons to stay in workforce

Posted: May 9, 2013 - 7:28pm  |  Updated: May 11, 2013 - 8:55pm
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion  Gretchen Alexander, 78, talks about re-entering the workforce to help offset car payments Thursday May 9, 2013 at the Kenai Senior Center in Kenai, Alaska.  Alexander has worked for the senior center for four years and is currently a data entry clerk.
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Gretchen Alexander, 78, talks about re-entering the workforce to help offset car payments Thursday May 9, 2013 at the Kenai Senior Center in Kenai, Alaska. Alexander has worked for the senior center for four years and is currently a data entry clerk.

Harriet Moravec retired in 1985. But it didn’t last forever.

Her retirement fund shriveled up, “and then in 2008 the government had fun with what was left,” Moravec said.

So what else could she do? About nine months ago, after more than 25 years out of the workforce, the 90-year-old Kenai resident got a job.

And she’s quite happy.

“It’s great. I don’t care. I could care less. As long as I can keep my body in great shape,” she said.

Moravec is not the only senior on the Kenai Peninsula who has left retirement to rejoin the workforce. From 2005 to 2011, 5.7 percent more Alaska residents 65 and older and 4.4 percent more 55 to 64-year-old residents have joined the work force, according to the March edition of Alaska Economic Trends.

Alyssa Shanks, economist for the Alaska Department of Labor in Anchorage, said there are many possible explanations for why more seniors are entering the workforce and just as many predictions about the impact it could have on the economy, state-wide and locally.

“It’s almost anyone’s guess as to what could happen,” Shanks said.

But the switch for some seniors was not solely financial.

Gretchen Alexander, who has retired twice, said her job gives her something to do other than going to church, reading at home or watching her grandson play baseball. A 78-year-old Vintage Pointe Manor resident, she enters data for the senior center 14 hours per week, Monday to Thursday.

“For me I have always worked and I love it,” Alexander said. “I have always worked in an office where I have responsibilities.”

Even for those who are still retired, working part-time eases some of the stress of living on a fixed income, she said.

Dave Merrill is another resident of the Kenai Senior Center who works 14 hours per week driving shuttle vans for the center. The 70-year-old said he just got bored.

“The first couple of years up here were all new and wonderful,” Merrill said about retiring to the Peninsula, but, after a while, he needed work.

Both Merrill and Alexander said part of the reason they took the jobs was financial — Merrill’s house in the Lower 48 flooded and Alexander had car payments — but they just wanted to work.

Merrill also works 15 to 18 hours per week at Home Depot.

“Now that I’ve taken the job at Home Depot, I’m in better health,” he said. He said he probably walks about 7 miles a day while on the job.

“That’s a happy work place,” he said.

While more seniors are entering the workforce statewide, Shanks believes the effects could be exaggerated on the Peninsula because it is a retirement destination for many.

Jenny Long, training coordinator for Mature Alaskans Seeking Skills Training, located in the Peninsula Job Center, agrees. But those that retire locally, she said, may have missed certain calculations when figuring their retirement plan.

“Most people grew up thinking when they were 60 to 62 they’d be able to retire. However, a lot of people aren’t earning high enough wages on Social Security to be able to retire,” Long said.

Through the MASST program, which places those 55 and older in jobs, Long has seen it many times, she said.

Often seniors are discouraged when they have to find a job, she said, but there are many options. While the younger members of the workforce may be more suited for physical or, sometimes, technology-centered jobs, receptionists and other office-based jobs often work well for seniors, she said.

Moravec now works as a receptionist at the Peninsula Job Center. Computers were an initial challenge for Moravec and the arthritis in her fingers prevents her from typing — she said “frustrating” is a nice word for it — but she is content, she said.

Her job keeps her connected, she said.

“You have to keep in touch with the world because it’s a beautiful world,” she said. “(It’s a) transition, and you don’t have to be afraid of it.”

Her job, she said, keeps her young.

 

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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