At 73, Mary Hampton never thinks about retirement. There’s nothing to retire on. None of the jobs — mostly office work — she’s had since her husband died in 1978 offered retirement benefits. No pensions, no 401(k)s.
"Without retirement, Social Security isn’t enough to live on comfortably," Hampton said.
So she works two jobs and tries not to think about how long she can continue doing this, going from her office-manager job to her seasonal job as a tax preparer for Jackson-Hewitt.
Hampton is part of a growing number of retirement-age women who are still in the work force, according to recent census figures. The biggest jump in working women of retirement age was among those 65-69, whose numbers increased from 19.9 percent to 26.4 percent nationwide between 2000 and 2010.
In Central Florida, the percentage of working women 65-69 rose from 18.8 percent to 26 percent, while men of the same age who were still working declined from 29.2 percent to 22.4 percent.
What worries Mary Hampton most is unemployment.
"My fear is if I left a job, who would hire a person who is almost 74?" she said.
The census figures indicate that the Great Recession has forced more women to postpone retirement, said professor Stephen Golant, a University of Florida gerontologist.
"It suggests to me they are delaying retirement," Golant said. "That means to me they need more income because their personal wealth declined."
In the state of Florida, 10.8 percent of women 65 and older were working in 2011 — and nearly 40 percent of those were employed full time, according to the census. Nationwide, 12.7 percent of retirement-age women were still in the work force, with 38.2 percent of them working full-time jobs.
For those younger retirement-age working women, Mary Hampton may be the harbinger of things to come. Within her age group, 70-74, the percentage went up from 9.9 percent to 10.5 percent in Central Florida. Hampton said she had no choice but to work as a single mother of three after her husband died in a car crash, but she kept working to remain self-sufficient in her old age. Her jobs pay the rent and utilities on her Altamonte Springs apartment.
"I’ve always worked," she said.
Golant said higher percentages of women, such as Hampton, work in service-sector jobs that are both lower wage and lacking retirement benefits. The growing numbers of retirement-age working women may also reflect the job loss of spouses, the stock-market decline and the collapse of the real-estate market.
"This is a generation that is more likely to be unmarried, a generation of women who were hit hard by the recession, whose house values went down dramatically, and whose stock-market investments took a major hit," he said.
But part of the increase may also reflect the overall growth in the numbers of women in the work force, Golant said. With more women working, it’s logical that more will continue working well into their retirement years.
Hampton needs to work. But she also loves to work.
In her office job, she’s one of four employees in a company that makes parts for outboard motors. There’s an importance to what she does. At the tax office, there’s the satisfaction in knowing what to do and doing it well.
There is also the feeling that without work, without some place to be and something to do every day, there is atrophy.
"If you sit home and do nothing," she said, "your mind won’t do anything either."
(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)