Seniors Prolonging Retirement

By Sharon Naylor

May 20, 2016 6 min read

Many seniors choose to stay in the workforce past the age of retirement. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the percentage of people in the American workforce who are 55 or older has grown from 30.1 percent in 1994 to 40 percent in 2014, and it is projected to reach 39.4 percent by 2024. Why do adults choose to prolong their retirement?

Kerry Hannon, career and retirement expert and author of "What's Next? Follow your Passion and Find Your Dream Job," says: "There are several reasons why seniors aged 55 and up opt to stay in the workforce. The first being income. Even if they have saved for retirement, staying in the workforce provides a safety net of additional income to bolster their retirement." Hannon says that when she gives lectures to people in their 50s, 60s or above, there is a palpable fear among them about financial security. "There is a clear siren call to keep working."

Cost of living continues to soar in this day and age. Few people are able to save -- or simply have not saved -- enough money for retirement by the time retirement age approaches, so "the economic advantages of working into traditional retirement years are plentiful." With income coming in, Hannon says, "you won't have to tap into your Social Security now, but can wait longer, which can bump up the amount you get when you delay to age 70."

Seniors also enjoy the non-monetary benefits of remaining in the workplace, such as physical activity and social engagement. "Seniors need to feel relevant and engaged with others," according to Hannon. "And there are studies that show working keeps the brain active, which can help stave off Alzheimer's. It's empowering to keep learning, and work provides regular stimulus." Staying mentally and physically active can improve seniors' mental and physical health.

Around age 50 and beyond, certain life experiences may encourage people to have a shift in perspective and a new outlook on life. They may start to lose family members. Perhaps they begin to experience health issues or deal with loved ones' health issues. For whatever reason, sometimes life just takes a turn. Whatever the case, a career change at this point in life could be an opportunity for all-around positive growth.

If you decide to work into your retirement and think you could benefit from a career change, ask yourself some questions. Is your current job (and will it be) the best for your mental and physical health? Is your job physically demanding? Does your job exhaust you with tons of stress and/or lots of travel? Are you passionate about your work? If you see significant negatives and desire a change, now is the time to make a move.

Utilize these remaining years of your career to work at something you are truly passionate about. It may seem daunting to make a change after so many years, but it can be quite feasible. And, sometimes, a change at this age is even a more appropriate time than before! "At this point in life, your big-ticket items, such as putting your kids through school and paying down your mortgage -- or paying off your mortgage -- are taken care of, so you may be able to embark upon a new career," says Hannon. "You have the freedom to make choices." If you begin a second career at age 55, you may be able to fulfill major career goals in the next 15 years or so.

Now, a career change doesn't need to be huge. Maybe you want to be promoted to a different role in your company, or change departments, or work at another company in your industry. Whatever your aspirations, you may not necessarily need to go back to college to make it happen. Alternatively, workshops, seminars and night courses are great opportunities to learn new skills and earn certifications to widen your job prospects. "Don't rely on your old skill set to move forward," says Hannon. "Lifelong learning is essential for well-being, as well as for staying in the job market." Plus, many institutions and schools offer senior discounts, making your new experiences more affordable, and therefore attainable.

Hannon advises testing out the job you want to pursue before making the official leap. "Volunteer at a company in that field and talk to people who currently work that job," says Hannon. "You may find that your dream job is not what you had in mind ... before investing in advanced education or cutting ties with your current place of business, it's important to experience what you will be getting into." It usually takes three to five years to make a full career transition and gain traction, so think about what you want to be doing for the next five years, not just now.

Consider different ways to turn your passions into income opportunities. In this day of entrepreneurs and small-business ventures, you may consider starting an online business. Maybe you enjoy knitting or making jewelry. Hannon mentions a woman who makes pillows out of old wedding dresses and sells them online. This business model allows you to make your own schedule and have complete control over the product.

The point is that there is no single mold for a typical job, and there's certainly no single way to create a work life that works for you. When thinking about a new job, ask yourself: "Do I like to work with a team or by myself? Do I enjoy working outside of the house, or do I prefer working in the comfort of my home? Do I work best in the morning or at night?"

Retiring closes the door to your career chapter in life. If you decide to continue working into retirement, the opportunities for starting a new chapter abound. Take the time to seek out the ideal job that will improve your financial security and also your overall happiness and well-being.

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