By Chris Adams
The big trend in retirement age is up: After decades of declines, the time when Americans step out of the workforce has been inching higher in recent years.
Some people are staying longer because they need the money. Others are staying longer because they need – or desire – the social interaction.
Courtney Tolbert sees both kinds of people on a daily basis. For Iona Senior Services – a Washington nonprofit that offers health, wellness, arts and other programs, often for isolated or limited-income older adults – Tolbert oversees meals, exercises and activities for roughly 35 local residents who range in age from 60 to 99.
They also range in their work status, from those who have the pleasure to spend time on volunteering and family activities, to those who work because they’re looking for something to so, to those who are out hustling and seeking to pick up shifts whenever possible.
For a National Press Foundation panel discussion – held during Iona’s daily program at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Northwest Washington – Tolbert assembled six of her participants to talk about careers and retirements. She also explained why some other participants she would have loved to have on the panel couldn’t be there.
“Some of them were dashing off to work,” she said.
Indeed, some of her program participants in their 60s and 70s are still on the job. Some potential participants couldn’t commit to the panel because they never know when they could get offered a shift – and if they got offered a shift, they knew they couldn’t turn it down.
Those who were there told of their careers, retirements and un-retirements. They included Alec McRae, 84, who spent 40 years as a clinical psychologist, retired when he thought he had reached his career goals, and then began finding piecemeal work and publishing poetry.
There was Pete Woods, 74, who still works as a contractor and suspects he’ll need to for some time. Given that work over his career was intermittent, he didn’t think much about retirement and didn’t put much money away for it. He continues to work because of that. “I don’t see any end in sight,” he said.
And there was Fran Forman, 75, who spent 40 years working for the Library of Congress, retired and addressed some heath concerns. That took about a year. “And then all the sudden I said, ‘Now what?’ ” she said.
She started volunteering, and then moved into a job as a front desk receptionist for Iona. She does that three afternoons a week. “It’s not only work, it’s very social,” she said. “It’s a lot of interaction, and it keeps me busy. It’s really gratifying.”