Retirement: A quaint idea

January 31, 2013

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Don’t you just love it when you read an article on a major news site that makes you go, “Well, duh!” Such was the case today when I read a feature story on nbcnews.com about how fewer Americans count on retiring by 65 (unfortunately, the link to this article no longer works). As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of workers working beyond 65 has increased significantly from 1985’s low of 10 percent to 18.5 percent in 2012. My reaction is a result of seeing many of my peers among those who will be working until at least 70—some because they love what they do, but most out of necessity.

Today’s article also included a poll about retirement plans. When asked “At what age do you plan to retire,” 4.7 percent responded that they already have retired; 2.3 percent said at age 54 or before; 32.5 percent chose between 55 and 64; 54 percent said between 65 and 75; and 6.1 percent said after 75. I hope I don’t find myself in this last group.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my job, but I also have other interests I’d like to devote more time to pursuing, and I have friends and family with whom I would love to spend more time. So … I took the poll and found myself in the majority, who chose between 65 and 75.

In 2009, when it was msnbcnews.com, the website ran a similar article/poll that also motivated me to write a blog post about retirement. The question was the same; the choices were different. The cutoff age for that poll was 70, not 75. This difference may actually mean nothing, but to me, it indicates that not only is retirement being postponed,  it’s been projected even farther out as the weak economy continues.

Rather than repeat the nbcnews.com article findings and expert quotes, I’m going to offer up a couple of real-world stories about people I know that illustrate the thinking and experiences of those of us near retirement age. Their names have been changed to protect our friendships.

There’s Carol from Arizona, who has worked for a Fortune 100 company for several decades. Carol will be 66 this year and has no immediate plans for retirement, despite her occasional bouts of burnout and her desire to travel. Because her investments have declined in value—along with those of everyone else I know—she’s going to hang in there a few more years. How long is a few more? I don’t know, but I’ve been hearing this from her for at least five years.

Mary, who is only 63, works for a Fortune 1000 company headquartered in Illinois. She also works several part-time jobs and has done so to try and build a nest egg for retirement. Mary had hoped to be able to retire at 65, but her employer made the retirement-age decision for her when the company announced that it was cutting positions effective March 1. With limited job prospects, Mary has been “forced” into early retirement from her primary job and will be forced to try and pick up more hours in her part-time work—a situation that is sure to resonate with many of all ages. She also will have to shell out a significant amount of money each month for COBRA payments, since she is not yet old enough for Medicare. Nor is she old enough to draw her full social security benefit. It took her awhile to come to terms with this development, and she remains anxious, yet optimistic about the future.

Then there are “Welding Wire” readers who shared their retirement plans back in 2009. Bob wrote, “I don’t know how anyone can think of retirement. My investments are worth half of what they were two years ago. College tuition keeps going up for my child. I am 55 and I don’t see how I can possibly retire until I am at least 75.”

Dale from Wisconsin, who was 51 at the time, said “I have resigned to the fact that there will be no retirement for me until I’m just too old to work anymore.”

So retirement thinking has definitely evolved from the time when 65 (or earlier) was the time to take the gold watch and mark the days ahead. Quoted in the nbcnews.com article, Robert Johnson, director of The Urban Institute’s Program on Retirement Policy, said, “The idea of retiring at age 62—I think a lot of young people think that’s a quaint idea.” A lot of sexagenarians and septuagenarians have to agree.

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