To Americans, “65” has always been a magic number. It’s the age one can expect to retire from work to live off Social Security and a pension while playing golf, starting a garden and traveling somewhere nice each year.
But for a growing number of Americans, retirement is just a temporary blip on their resumes. A vacation of sorts in between jobs. More and more people, it turns out, are going back to work after retiring from their careers.
In one survey by the Rand Corporation, a whopping 39% of workers age 65 and older who were currently employed said they had previously retired at some point. They join a growing number of boomers who are spending their golden years in the workplace. According to Bloomberg, 32% of Americans 65 to 69 and 19% of those ages 70-74 are still employed.
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This leads one to wonder: why are retirees flooding back into the workforce?
We’ve tracked down eight common reasons why retirees are going back to work:
When one spouse retires years before the other, many of the joys that come with retirement must be postponed. You can’t take off as a couple to volunteer in National Parks when one person gets only three weeks off a year, after all.
This was the case for my mom. She retired about three years before my dad and after the honeymoon of retirement was over, she jumped back into her old job. As a bonus, she found herself happier than before because she made the choice to work and could quit at any time.
For some retirees with substantial savings, retirement can prove to be a great opportunity to try out something entirely new. This was the case for Doug McLaurine and his wife Robin Factor, who worked in book publishing in NYC and decided upon McLaurine’s retirement in 2013 to open up the Roxbury General Store in the Catskill Mountains region of upstate New York.
The couple, like many city people, had owned a second home in the country and wanted to spend more time there in retirement. The idea of the store morphed from there.
“We thought, ‘well, what are we going to do up here?” McLaurine said. “I didn’t want to just sit around. We thought something we would both enjoy would be to have a store and the store Roxbury needed was a general store because all you could buy here was beer and chips.”
Factor retired in 2016 and now they both work in the store, which is open 7 days a week.
They have no plans to retire anytime soon. “We’ll do it as long as we’re having fun,” McLaurine said.
It turns out the more meaningful your career, the better chance you’ll want to stick with it. According to the Rand survey I cited above, “meaningful work is a key reason that older workers delay retirement.”
“The key thing I’ve seen, as people get later in life, is that there is a trend toward doing something more meaningful,” Matt Youngquist, founder of Career Horizons, a Pacific Northwest career counseling firm, told the University of Washington.
The perks of retirement aren’t for everyone. Some retirees leave careers they adored only to find they really miss the work.
One retiree I spoke with who sold his company before he turned 50, launched into a list of all the things he missed about working, including the brain stimulation, challenges and the satisfaction that came with each accomplishment and most of all, the collegiality of the office space. He even missed the banality of having someplace to go every day.
Semi-retirement – or working part-time after retiring from full-time employment – is a big trend among retirees. Martha Conner, 72, of Burton, Texas, is a great example of this trend. Conner had been happily retired for about a year and traveling the country with her husband when she got a job offer from a former colleague that she couldn’t refuse.
It was part-time accounting work and she could do it from anywhere, including from the RV she and her husband used to travel all over the country. It was any worker’s dream, really: the hours were not only flexible, but Conner could set them.
She’s worked this way for six years now and while Conner sometimes thinks about quitting to spend more time in her garden, the job has proven too good to quit. She likes the people she works for and they value her for her 20-plus years of corporate experience. She never worries about money. Plus, the job hasn’t stopped her from the ideal retiree’s lifestyle. She and her husband have still managed to motor their way to Phoenix, Santa Fe, the New Jersey Shore and Washington, D.C. among other places.
“I’m not ever tethered to an office. This is like a freedom job,” Conner says.
It’s well-documented that baby boomers are “the sandwich generation,” supporting both kids in college (or just out) and their parents in their old age.
As college tuition costs soar and the cost of caring for elderly parents does as well, many boomers are finding that a few years more work helps pay these extra bills that the generations before them didn’t have to worry about.
One reason some retirees go back to work is that they lost money in the recession of 2009 or worry that another downturn could wipe out their savings.
Part of this problem is that many retirees these days depend on 401K-type plans from their employers instead of the traditional employer-sponsored pensions that pay a monthly fixed benefit from retirement until death. The payout from these 401K-type plans “depends on unpredictable investment returns,” according to the Urban Institute.
It’s a real issue. In 1975, 88% of all private-sector employees had a pension, says the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. That’s fallen to just 33% today.
Some older workers are jumping back into the workforce because they’re afraid they may outlive their savings.
It’s not news that Americans are living longer. According to the Center for Disease Control, men at 65 can expect to live another 18 years, while women can expect to live another 20.6.
That’s a lot of retired years to save up for and many baby boomers haven’t done a good enough job prepping. According to a 2017 survey by the Insured Retirement Institute, just 23% of the baby boomers they surveyed believe their savings will last through retirement or that they did a decent job preparing for retirement.
Of the boomers surveyed, only 40% had even tried to figure out how much money they would need to retire.
Are you a retiree that went back to work or do you know an aging loved one who did? We’d like to hear why they reentered the workforce in the comments below.