Putting off retirement

Workplace flexibility, health insurance just a few of the reasons to stay on the job

By James Lawson
jlawson@kenoshanews.com
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Up early and dressed for work, Rich Rosenberg is prepared for another day of traveling and making routine sales calls for his longtime employer. Rosenberg, who will be 79 in January, estimates he drives at least 40,000 miles a year, covering his sales territory that covers northern Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin.

At a stage in life when most people are retired and have long given up the daily routine of work, Rosenberg who has been with EMCO Chemical Distributors for 37 years wouldn’t give up working.

“I don’t think of retirement. I love the people I work with and EMCO is a great employer,” he said. He is staying on his job because he is healthy, believes he can make a significant contribution and thinks he would be bored if he stayed home in retirement.

Tom Reiherzer has worked in the building trades for 39 years. He started out as a cement finisher, became a union representative and nearly two years after retiring, he has gone back to work as a marketing director for the Building Alliance, an organization that represents the Tri-County Contractors Association and the Southeastern Wisconsin Building and Construction Trades.

Although he works part time, he represents his industry to bring new projects to the area. So far, his efforts have helped to bring the Meijer, Amazon and hopefully the Menominee Hard Rock Casino projects to Kenosha County. While he enjoyed retirement, he returned to work partly because his bosses needed his skills and partly out of a need to reduce his monthly health insurance. Before going back to work, he faced a $1,400 a month insurance bill. He now pays $600 monthly for his family health insurance plan.

No longer counting days

Not so many years ago it seems once an employee reached their mid 50s they began counting their days to retirement. They had built a retirement nest egg, their kids were out of college and their homes were practically paid off.

And for those in their early to mid 60s, they knew their days were numbered. Their employers might have thought they lacked technology skills, might have been more likely to become frequent users of health benefits, or might just miss too many days on the job.

That thinking is changing somewhat. Older workers are staying on their jobs longer and those who retired are returning to the workforce — in some cases to welcoming arms of employers who covet their skills, education and work ethic.

“There are multiple factors that come into play,” explained Arthur I. Cyr, director of the A.W. Clausen Center at Carthage College. “People have so many more opportunities thanks to automation. There are a lot of jobs that don’t require a lot of physical energy.”

Although a new poll by Associated press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research suggest older workers are postponing retirement or are returning to work for financial reasons — they need to work longer because of eroding investments, home values and unexpected expenses — other studies and organizations suggest companies need them.

According to the study, older adults are now the fastest growing segment of the American workforce; people 55 and up are forecast to make up one-fourth of the civilian labor force by 2020.

Despite fears that age discrimination would deplete the numbers, the trend is just the opposite. Much of the shift has come through education and technology. Some of the older workers returned to schools to update their skills and to keep pace with technology. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment of workers 65 and over increased 101 percent between 1977 and 2007.

Connecting seniors and jobs

By 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, older workers closed the educational gap between themselves and workers in the 25-64 age range. Those with less than a high school education accounted for just 13 percent of that group’s employment, compared to 9 percent with younger workers. In 1997, those with less than a high school education was 21 percent compared with 10 percent for the younger work group.

The Brookings Institution, a national research organization, earlier this year reported there are two main reasons for the surge in older workers. First, the sheer size of the baby boom generation means that the number of Americans attaining age 60 each year is climbing steeply. Second, labor force participation rates among adults between 60 and 74 have increased.

Demand has increased to the point that national organizations like the American Association for Retired Persons award companies that actively hire older workers. The AARP earlier this year listed its “Best Employers for Workers Over 50” winners. While many of the listing of 50 employers included healthcare organizations and universities, it included financial services and technology companies.

Older workers now can access job information on several national websites such as www.workforce50.com, www.retiredbrains.com and www.seniors4hire.org. Locally the Kenosha County Job Center offers a once-a-month, free workshop for job seekers 40 and over at its Employment Central resource room at 8600 Sheridan Road. At the Nov. 7 workshop, the theme was: Talent Comes from Experience, where job seekers could learn how to showcase their skills while de-emphasizing their age.

“The objective is to get their foot in the door and get that interview,” said Rene O’Connor, job service manager. Workshop presenter Diane Gertz said one of the most frequently asked questions is: How can I showcase my experience against college grads and younger job seekers?” She suggests that job seekers should keep current with computer skills.

Some of these jobs don’t require manual labor. And that’s good. Unlike the older worker of the past, many of today’s elderly might be better educated and still and have good skills. Employers are finding that older workers are more productive, Cyr said. He attributes the change to growth of technology in the workplace.

“People are living longer. They feel better, but don’t want to retire,” explained Carthage College’s Catherine Lau, assistant professor of economics and business administration. “They really do have the energy to continue. A lot of places are being more flexible. An older worker may be on the job one day, have a day off to play golf on Thursday, then be back to work the next day.”

She added, “Because they may be getting Social Security and Medicare, employers are finding it is advantageous to hire them. They have experience and they are reliable. Hotels may hire someone to sit at a front desk at night and that’s not very physical.”

Why stay?

For Rosenberg, a sales representative, working is almost like an elixir for good health. He feels energized when he’s working. Additionally, he works out four days a week. Some days he goes to the gym, other days he does aerobics at home. He has driven so much that he just bought a new car. A former pharmacist who joined EMCO 37 years ago, he doesn’t expect to ever stop working. Getting out of the house is another factor. “My wife would rather have me working than being at home,” he said.

The Associated Press-NORC study found that 47 percent of the working participants now expect to retire later than they previous thought and on average plan to call it quits at about 66 or nearly three years later than their estimate when they were 40.

Some are doing that because they experienced a downward movement in their 401(k) plans so they’re trying to make up for that period they lost money, noted Olivia Mitchell, a retirement expert with the University of Pennsylvania.

Health insurance is another factor. The sticker shock of health insurance premiums made Reiherzer reconsider his options. “They tried to get me to come back the first year and a half after I retired,” he recalled. “I was having fun being retired. Retirement was better than I thought.”

Reiherzer enjoyed the freedom to travel, play golf and do some of those “honey-do” projects around the house. In his new position, he still has a flexible schedule and is able to work in some golf between presentations and meetings.

Not all 50-somethings look to others for employment. Some like Don Lien, in his early 50s, is looking to turn two avocations — flying and his love of photography — into a money making career. He already has gotten his own company, iFlyMedia Productions, a firm that takes aerial photographs and videos for clients off the ground. He hopes to make it profitable enough so he’ll be able to send his 10-year-old son to college.

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