Older employees are increasingly staying on the job into the traditional retirement years. Some people are delaying retirement because they need the money or benefits, while others enjoy their job.
"In the current recession a lot of people who might have planned to retire are realizing that whatever savings they may have had is inadequate so they are going to postpone retirement," says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College. "Even if people feel they might be prepared for retirement uncertainties, people go to work not only to get a paycheck, but oftentimes our sense of community, social connection, and the way we think about ourselves are connected to the work that we do."
People age 55 and older are now more likely to be part of the workforce than before the recession. In October 2012, 40.6 percent of people age 55 and older considered themselves to be in the labor force, up from 38.9 percent in December 2007, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The employed population age 55 and older has increased by nearly 18 percent since 2007, which is about 4.7 million more older employees. Workers are also increasingly staying on the job past age 65. Some 17.5 percent of people age 65 and older were employed in October 2012, up from 15.8 percent in 2007.
Some cities offer considerably better employment opportunities to older workers than others, according to a U.S. News analysis of 2011 Census Bureau data. The Washington, D.C., metro area has the highest older-worker employment rate in the country (36.2 percent). Many state capital cities are also among the places where the greatest proportion of people are working in their 60s and beyond. Madison, Wis. (32.7 percent), Salt Lake City (32.4 percent), Austin, Texas (31 percent), and Boston (30.9 percent), are among the metro areas with the greatest percentages of employed people age 60 and older.
Places with major medical facilities can also offer employment opportunities for older workers. "The healthcare industry is where you see a lot of older folks working," says Richard Johnson, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. "It is a growth industry and it's a place where employers are having some trouble meeting their staffing needs." In the Bridgeport, Conn., metro area, where 34.1 percent of people age 60 and older are employed, the largest employment sector is healthcare, including Bridgeport Hospital and St. Vincent's Medical Center. And Lancaster General Hospital is the largest employer in Lancaster, Penn., where 31.7 percent of the age 60-and-older population is employed. Medical centers are also among the largest employers in Omaha and Portland, Maine, cities where older-worker employment is also strong.
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Once you have or find a job when you are close to retirement age, holding onto it is important. Unemployed older workers generally have a tougher time than younger people finding new jobs. The average duration of unemployment for older jobseekers was 57.7 weeks in October, compared to 37.8 weeks among their younger counterparts. "One of the reasons why the duration of employment has increased is that more older workers are faced with savings loss, plummeting housing values, and a fear that they can't afford to retire, so they are remaining in the labor force longer in the hopes of finding a job," says Sara Rix, a senior strategic policy advisor for the AARP Public Policy Institute. When they search for new jobs, "Age discrimination is a barrier that older workers face, and older workers often do not have the skills that employers are seeking today."
A recent Adecco and Braun Research Telephone survey of 501 hiring managers found managers reporting that some older workers have high salary demands (51 percent), overconfidence in their abilities and experience (48 percent), and are unable to sell themselves (35 percent). The managers also said they were apprehensive about hiring older workers because they might have difficulty learning or adapting to new technologies (39 percent) or resist taking direction from younger management (33 percent).
While some older workers want to shift into self-employment or scale back to part-time work, others find themselves forced into retirement when they can't find other work. The number of self-employed older workers increased from less than 2.6 million in December 2007 to about 3 million in October 2012. And nearly 1.4 million older employees worked part-time because they needed the money in October. "People are living longer, so you either have to save more or push back the age of retirement in order to not experience a decline in living standards," says Rix.