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Columns: Boomer Bucks
Barbara Mlotek Whelehan   Expert: Barbara Mlotek Whelehan
Boomer Bucks
"Working" does not appear in the definition of "retired"
Boomer Bucks

Retiring on your own terms

Pop quiz: What do these terms have in common?
Working stiff.
Working retiree.

Answer: First, both share a word. Second, both are oxymorons. Third, both describe an ever-growing segment of the older population.

In 1993, roughly three out of 10 Americans age 55 or older worked. By 2005, the numbers increased to four out of 10, according to a new research report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, or EBRI. Those numbers are expected to trend higher.

Of these, the percentage working full-time year-round increased from 54 percent in 1993 to 64 percent in 2005.

Are you heartened or discouraged by this information? One could argue that it all depends on if you see it as the proverbial half-full or half-empty glass.

The half-empty perspective
Craig Copeland of EBRI says people are working because they must. In his words, "These trends mark a significant change in behavior for individuals in these age groups, and are likely driven by their need to obtain affordable employment-based health insurance (as opposed to unaffordable or unavailable coverage in the individual market) and the need to continue to accumulate savings in employment-based defined contribution retirement plans."

Hmmm. A decidedly half-empty outlook, if you ask me.

The bad news gets worse: For those in the 65- to 69-year-old category -- those who are certainly entitled to say "been there, done that" about work -- three out of 10 remain in the workforce, compared with two out of 10 in 1985.

Do you think that they're working because they want to?

The half-full version
A colleague recently sent me a marketing presentation that casts a rosy glow on the work-in-retirement phenomenon. Called "The Changing Definition of Retirement," it states:

Retirement = NOT working until you're 65
NOT quitting work altogether
NOT spending all your time on leisure activities and travel

The factors driving change in retirement include:

  • Increasing affluence of baby boomers
  • Steady increases in health and longevity, allowing for more active lifestyles
  • A growing recognition of the psychological importance of work to personal satisfaction

That is definitely the most positive way to spin the predicament of Americans who continue to plod forward on the work treadmill. But this presentation was put together by a marketing research outfit that wants to sell its services to financial firms that target the baby boomer market.

Americans deluding themselves
To be fair, that marketing firm didn't pull its facts out of thin air. There's been a lot of talk in recent years about the changing definition of retirement. Much of it is based on what Americans themselves say about working in retirement.

More than three-quarters of today's workers -- a full 77 percent of working Americans -- expect to work for a paycheck after they retire, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. Here's the kicker: Most say they'll work because they want to, not because they have to.

Next: "The reason people will work in retirement"
Page | 1 | 2 | 3 |

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