Financial hardship, need for health insurance spur people to keep working

Posted: Thursday, January 08, 2004

NEWTON, Kan. Sometimes life just doesn't turn out according to plans. At least that's one of the few things Hugh Long knows for sure.

Like many people who spent decades working hard and making future goals to do the things they love during retirement Long was ready to hang up his hat when he hit 65. After a 30-year career in Colorado Springs, Colo., as a Realtor, Long and his wife moved to Newton, Kan., with a calendar full of plans.

"My wife's relatives were here, and we were going to travel," Long said.

But when his wife died last year, so did a few dreams.

"It was our intention to do a lot of traveling, but that didn't work out," Long said.

Rather than hitting the road, Long is now working six days a week. Not long after his wife's death, he resumed his career as a Realtor not for the money, but for a way to fill the hours in a day that suddenly stretched interminably.

Long isn't alone in his decision to return to the work force after retirement. Gone are the days of getting the gold watch at 65. Instead, approximately 15 percent of individuals over the age of 65 are employed and are becoming an increasingly important part of the labor force, reports the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College in Boston.

While little research has examined labor market behavior in this age group, initial studies indicate the 65 and older labor supply is concentrated among the most educated, wealthiest and healthiest elderly. Despite these findings those working often have college degrees and successful careers in their pasts the wages of the elderly are low.

Often, those working past retirement age are paid less than their younger counterparts and far less than they once received when they were younger. Overall, the Center for Retirement Research finds many seniors have reasons other than money for working well into their golden years.

At 64, Harvey County Clerk Margaret Wright believes she'll be coming to work for years to come. Wright, who was first elected to her post in 1976 and has served consecutive terms since that time, continues to work although her husband retired 10 years ago.

Why? Wright is quick to admit she loves her job, but said like many older Americans in the work force, she needs health insurance coverage. Wright and her husband know the importance of insurance: her husband retired to spend time with their son as he went through a bone marrow transplant a decade ago.

"Sometimes things in life dictate when you hang it up," Wright said.

She hears from friends her age who feel the need to work as long as they can.

"Some need the income. Others don't want to lose health insurance coverage. Some don't want to be a burden on anyone, ever," she said.

Working well into retirement, however, doesn't necessarily mean following one's long-time career path. According to a recent Health and Retirement Study, seniors are taking advantage of technological advances to work at second careers.

For some, that means using a computer and Internet access to telecommute. For others, it can mean seeking training for a second career. In fact, research findings indicate that labor force policies can help older adults gain access to new jobs.

Additionally, employer flexibility regarding part-time work and work demands might make continued work more attractive for older workers. Increasing longevity, improving health, strong labor market conditions and increasing self-employment all lead to more labor force participation for seniors.

Whether already working or simply wanting to, older Americans are actively searching for new jobs.

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