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Baby Boomers Breaking Retirement Traditions

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Baby Boomers Breaking Retirement Traditions

Retirement from a 20-year teaching career lasted five months for Joan Breen.

She didn’t return to the classroom, however. Since last year, Breen, 56, has worked as a teller for a credit union.

“It’s just a fun job and I really wasn’t ready to quit working,” she said. “A lot of my friends were still working and so is my husband.”

Breen’s decision is part of a growing trend among Baby Boomers who have enjoyed successful careers but have chosen to re-enter the workforce, not for financial reasons, but a desire to stay active and productive.

The average age of retirement is 64 for men and 62 for women, according to an analysis of Census data by the Center for Retirement Research. Census data also show the number of Americans living to age 90 and beyond has tripled in the past three decades to almost 2 million and is likely to quadruple by 2050.

“People are beginning to realize that if you retire at age 60, you could easily spend 35 years in retirement,” says Richard Johnson, senior fellow and director of the program on retirement policy at the Urban Institute. “And that could get tedious.”

Breen works part time, about 30 hours a week. She enjoys a flexible work schedule as well as the camaraderie and interaction with customers.

It’s a change from her teaching days. For 18 years, Breen taught kindergarten and often would spend weekends and evenings preparing lessons.

“If I was going to do something, I wanted a job that I didn’t have to take home with me,” she said.

Breen isn’t working for the money. She hopes to stay on at the credit union when she turns 62, but might scale back her hours.

“I initially thought working in banking would be fun because of the one-on-one time with customers,” she said. “It’s just been fun so far.”

Experts say Baby Boomers, defined as individuals born between the mid-1940s and mid-1960s, are working past conventional retirement age, a trend fueled by an uncertain economy, improved health in older life and an understanding that staying engaged leads to a better sense of well-being.

The percentage of people who work and people who want to work has increased markedly in both the 65-and-older and 75-and-older groups, says Sara Rix, senior adviser for the AARP Public Policy Institute. Recently, the participation rate for 65 and older was 17.9 percent, compared with 10.8 percent in 1985. For 75 and older, the rate jumped from 4.3 percent in 1990 to 7.5 percent recently.

“Those are whopping increases,” Rix says. “I see these rates continuing to increase as we move into the future.”

Hitting 65 and “getting the gold watch” is not on the must-do list anymore for many people, says Jacquelyn James, research director at the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College.

“Their emphasis isn’t just to keep working but to do things that add life to years and not years to life,” James says. “People who are very work-oriented and love their jobs don’t want to give them up, especially if they’re healthy.”

An April Gallup survey had similar findings: 534 working people were asked whether, when they reached retirement age, “you think you will continue working and work full time; continue working and work part time; or stop working altogether?” Those who answered that they would continue to work were then asked, “Would you do it because you want to, or because you will have to?”

–18 percent said they would work full time, and a third of those said it was because they wanted to, not because they would have to.

–63 percent said they would work part time; almost two-thirds of those said they would do it because they wanted to.

–18 percent said they would retire and stop working altogether.

There are plenty of reasons to stick it out.

Job satisfaction grows with age, Johnson says. Ninety percent of workers age 60 to 64 agree or strongly agree that they enjoy going to work, compared with 95 percent of workers 65 to 69 and 97 percent of workers age 70 and older, according to the Retirement Project of the Urban Institute.

Stress levels also drop on the job. About one of three workers age 70 and older agree or strongly agree their jobs involve a lot of stress, compared with more than half of workers age 60 to 64.

Another plus: the financial benefits of delaying tapping into Social Security.

An analysis by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that nearly half of retirees who filed for Social Security before their 63rd birthday passed up 25 percent to 33 percent in additional inflation-adjusted benefits that would have been available if they had waited until full retirement age.

Bob Collar, 62, of Little Chute, has worked as a part-time driver for a regional bus line company.  He previously spent 15 years at a local garage door business before taking a job as a driver.

“I just enjoy doing what I do,” Collar said. “I think there’s a lot of other drivers who are in the same situation I’m in.”

Collar primarily receives special assignments, including transporting high school sports teams. In some cases, he’s seen students progress from their freshman year through graduation.

“When you see the kids regularly, you get to know them and they get to know you and you grow with them,” he said.

Johnson says many older people in the workforce have high levels of education.

“It used to be older workers were much less educated than younger workers,” Johnson says. “That’s not the case now. Older workers do not face the same problems in terms of being outdated as they used to.”

Breen, who has a master’s degree, found learning a new job intimidating.

“The transition was difficult,” she said. “I didn’t think I would ever get this, but now I’m very comfortable.”

Both Breen and Collar, who are empty-nesters, plan to use some of their newfound time on traditional retirement activities.

Breen has two grandchildren and has been spending more time with them. She and her husband, Mike, who works for the local school system, likely will do some traveling down the road.

“Eventually my husband and I would like to travel and do other fun things, and maybe spend winters where it’s someplace warm,” she said.

Collar said his wife, a financial analyst who has worked for 43 years, likely will continue working after she retires. The additional income will help pay for traveling costs to visit their son and grandchildren in Texas.

“When we do go to Texas, it’s an expensive ticket,” he said.

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