The Myth of the Post-Retirement Worker

Libby Kane

More Americans RetireBy now, you’re probably aware that the average American is woefully underprepared when it comes to saving for retirement.

“That’s okay,” you might think. “I can always just work for a few more years, or take on a part-time job to cover my expenses.”

That’s a common belief many of us hold. LearnVest research has shown that 40% of Americans plan to work after retiring, and a CareerBuilder survey reports a higher percentage, up to 60%—hence the rise of buzzwords like “recareering” and “semi-retirement.”

A recent New York Times article, however, says that’s not going to be the reality for most of us. It cites an AARP survey that reveals an even higher percentage of those who plan to work, at 72%. In reality, the number who actually do work into their golden years is 18.9%.

The article posits that the gap exists for a variety of reasons: Sometimes a worker leaves the workforce early because he times his retirement with his spouse’s. Or there was a “shock” that took an employee out of the workforce, like having to care for a sick relative or a change of regime in the office. And often when an older worker loses his job, he can’t break back into a competitive workplace still rife with age discrimination.

Or perhaps, working after age 65 is harder than it looks. Today’s jobs may not require as much manual labor as they used to, but they’re hard in a different way: Many of them require good eyesight and the ability to concentrate intensely—which can pose challenges for aging Americans.

Sometimes, though, the reason for the gap is positive. Many people assume they’ll have to work because they won’t have enough retirement money. “People look at their savings and pensions and say, ‘I think it’s going to be O.K., but I don’t know.’ … But then when people reach 61, 62, 63, a lot of them figure out that they can retire,” author and retirement consultant Helen Dennis, an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California, told the Times.

Since you can’t plan for every bit of uncertainty, it’s critical that you do plan where possible—and avoid these all-too-common retirement mistakes.

  • Frank Klucznik

    I’m very surprised by the 18% number. Thought it would be significantly higher b/c retirement today is not what retirement was once thought to be. Fundamentally a human being needs: a reason to get up in the morning, someone to love and something to look forward to. Work can fulfill at least two of these requirements.
    I retired once already 7 years ago. Today I work three jobs by choice. The kids are grown and gone, relationship w/ my spouse is good and there are 24 hours in the day, of which I only sleep 6. So leaves a lot of time left over to do something w/.
    For me the fundamental difference it that I choose what I do now. It just so happens the three things I enjoy all pay good money. I would think others would do something similar if their health and mobility would support it.

  • Flawetic

    I agree with Frank, we have a saying where I live: rest makes you rusty. It’s better to plan to work for the long haul as in the entire time of your life here on earth. This means resting when you need to and paying attention to your overall health and wellbeing. I believe it is possible and it’s happening all around us.

    • Ed Arnold

      I just read recently that working past your normal retirement age is a “privilege”. I happen to agree with that.

  • Lenore Kaibel

    I think there are two sides to this, sides that people my age, those of us who will be looking at retirement in 20 years (perhaps) need to keep in mind. The first is that I am forever hearing people say they “will never retire”, and that is probably, 95% of the time nonsense. Physically and market-value-employability wise, it just is not so. I think the “eyes and concentration” thing is silly, my mom is 78 and her eyes work just fine with glasses and her ability to “concentrate” is unchanged. However, health problems like significant back issues, etc just happen no matter how healthy you try to be. A time is also going to come when most employers in your field are not going to be so interested in hiring you or keeping you on. That is just reality. However, and it’s a BIG however we are at some point going to have to lose the idea that you retire in your 60′s. The average lifespan in the U.S. is getting longer every year, lousy diets and all. Medical science keeps extending our lives, and when people are routinely living into their late 80′s and beyond (and that day is in site) who is really going to have the funds for 25 years of retirement? It was NEVER intended to last that long. Now, we just need the culture to catch up with the science.

    • Flawetic

      Yes the average lifespan is getting longer but with all kinds of health issues to go along with it. Which is why people around that age cannot fully benefit from their retirement and contribute to society like they ought to be able to. We often hear about investing financially in our retirement, but what about healthwise? About 5 months ago I started running about 15min every two days, I see it as compound health interest building in myself, what’s the point of having all that money saved up and not even being able to enjoy it one day?!