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Retirement Delayed – Older Americans Working Longer (Opinion)

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The American Dream is an ideal a lot of us have endeavored to achieve. Work hard, buy the car, then the house, have kids, send them to college, retire at 65 and live a life of leisure in your later years. Sounds great, right?

The reality is many people had to wake up to realize that dream is not possible for everyone, especially the part about retiring at 65.

Have you noticed older workers taking your cash in the drive-thru or at the grocery store, lately? Well, you’re not imagining things. For the last decade, there has been a trend in Americans working beyond traditional retirement years.

According to newly released data from the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20% of Americans over age 65 — a total of 10.6 million people — are either working or looking for work. That’s a 57-year high!

We can conclude that some individuals are working longer because they don’t have enough money saved for retirement. Others are finding their social security benefits aren’t enough to pay the bills or maybe medical expenses are draining their savings.

Economists have hypothesized another reason – retirement benefits have changed. Remember when companies offered pensions? For decades, private employers slowly moved away from pension plans with 28% in 1980 compared to just 2% in 2014. The shift to defined contribution plans like 401K’s, placed the onus of saving on the employee. That financial deviation is believed to have had a long-lasting negative wealth effect on Americans nationwide.

The positive news in all of this is that working longer can be attributed to longevity. According to a recent Plews United Income Report, three out of four Americans aged 65 or older said they are in good, very good, or excellent health. In addition, most of those folks said there are no limitations on the kind of work they can do. However, it is interesting to note the number of older workers with college degrees has jumped from 25% in 1985 to 53% in 2019. More than double!

In 2000, Social Security full retirement age, the age at which workers can receive unreduced Social Security benefits — rose from 65 to 66. Since then, more people are waiting until 66 to claim benefits. That’s a trend expected to continue when the age rises to age 67 later this year.

There is another benefit to working longer and delaying Social Security claims. The longer you wait to claim, the larger your monthly Social Security benefit will be. The longer you work, the more you can save. That means you’ll have fewer years to make your retirement savings last.

Long ago, not being able to retire at 65 might have caused shame. Now, whether you are financially forced to work or just feel like doing it, the good news is this trend isn’t going anywhere. This makes me think of the famous Mark Twain quote, “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”


John Grant

Author Bio: John Grant, former State Representative, and State Senator, an estate planning attorney, and a member of the National Senior Citizen Hall of Fame, has spent much of his career working on behalf of seniors.  John is continuing the advocacy work by heading a new venture called Seniors Across America to continue speaking up for our elderly population.

Website: Seniors Across America

You can reach John at: john@seniorsacrossamerica.net