Retirement Is Just Not For Everyone I am Learning

It has occurred to me several times as I sit down to write this column with its overall topic that I really like (Retired and Rejuvenated), that many people in their 60’s and 70’s are not retired, don’t want to retire, or can’t retire because of economic reasons.{{more}} I am, in fact, surprised that I have not received emails from folks saying, “sure it is great to remain active and healthy in our later years, travel, pursue hobbies, get involved with the community, but we still have full-time jobs, and we will not be ‘hitting the hammock’ for a few more years.”

The more I read the newspapers and listen to the national news, the more I realize that for many seniors the lure of retirement is not an immediate reality. Just this week CBS carried a story about the number of college professors who are still teaching and doing research well into their 70’s and 80’s. They love their work, they are still good at it and students are still learning from them.

The program also pointed out the dilemma this creates for young college professors who have recently graduated with their doctoral degrees and credentials, but can’t get teaching assignments because the older professors are not moving out of their positions. I am sure this same delemna exists for many other professions and business corporations. The question of “when to retire” is one that many of us have been asking for years. The answer is especially hard for those who love their work, are physically able to continue doing their work, and for those whose self-image is largely dependent on the work they do.

According to a new report by the U.S.Census Bureau, the number of Americans 65 and over who remain in the labor force has grown by a third over the last 20 years. This trend is expected to accelerate as more healthy, but not so wealthy, baby boomers reach the traditional age of retirement and just keep plugging away.

The total share of seniors who are still working rose from 12.1 percent in 1990 to 16.1 percent in 2010. In 2011, according to survey results, it appears to have edged up to 16.2 percent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that workforce participation by Americans 65 and older will reach 22.6 percent by 2020.

We talk about the “retirement decision,” but that might not give the full picture. There are people who have lost their jobs, been downsized, lost their health, or have significant caregiving responsibilities that forced them to leave the workforce. In other words, it might not always be our decision, it is just what happens.

Financial concerns affect our decisions about retirement. Healthy 65 year olds today have at least a 40 percent chance of living into their 90s, which means some will be at risk of outliving their savings. Baby boomers and current young workers may be at even greater risk if they have not saved substantial amounts of money for their retirement years. Many people are putting off enrolling in Social Security to later years, in order to collect a higher benefit because they are living longer.

It may be an American dream to be Retired and Rejuvenated. But for some, that “hammock” is not in their near future. I’d love to hear from readers about your retirement decisions. When do you think is the best time to retire?

Joanne Byrne served as Senior Services Coordinator for the Town of Orange. She is now actively and happily retired. Email her at to share your thoughts on retiremen