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Seniors continue to populate labor force

By Joshua Pilkington

One man tells his tale of why he continues to avoid retirement at 67

More seniors find themselves in the workforce these days than ever before. Some choose to do it to comfortably bridge the gap between employment and retirement, while others, find themselves without another option.

According to a July release on the U.S. workforce from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 19 percent of people 65 and older were working at least part-time in the second quarter of 2017, that is the highest rate of senior employment since American retirees won better health care and Social Security benefits in the 1960s.

The cause, according to labor experts, tends to be two-fold. On one hand, there are more opportunities to work part-time and from home in the 21st century than in previous decades and the United States labor industry has changed from one with a focus on manufacturing to one with a focus on technology and globalization. The other trend is affordability. Many baby boomers in 2017 find themselves without a nest egg with which they can leave the labor force, leading to the difficult decision of taking a low-paying, low-skill job, to make enough to supplement their social security benefits.

“I don’t hate my job, but I don’t necessarily love coming to work everyday either,” said Anthony Berrios, 67, of Denver who works as a sales representative for a print company. “I loved being on the road when I was younger, even into my 50s I enjoyed getting in my car and going on sales calls to New Mexico or press checks in California, but now I often feel like I’m going through the motions. I’d rather be fishing, as they say.”

Berrios isn’t alone. The same BLS report shows that more Americans over the age of 65 are making up a larger part of the labor force than in the past. By 2024, the bureau estimates, 36 percent of Americans ages 65 to 69 will be active participants in the labor market, an increase of just 22 percent active participation in 1994.

“I think some of us are just staying active longer,” Berrios said. “I remember my dad was active well into his 80s, but back then the work you did was on your land, it wasn’t for the man, you know? Now that type of work is called a ‘hobby’ or an ‘activity’ because your job still entails making money for someone else.”

Of course staying healthy and living longer has a downside as well, which is facing the same frustration that many abled-bodied Americans face today: finding stable, well-paying employment.

“I know I’m better off than some of my friends and even some of my family,” Berrios said. “My brother, who’s two years older than me, made quite a good hunk of money working in real estate in California back in the 90s. He wasn’t very smart with his money though, so he ended up on the wrong side of the market crash. Now he has no choice but to keep working.”

Some senior are facing a similar situation. According to a Pew Research Center study, many older workers are opting to trade traditional jobs – particularly those in the manufacturing and corporate sectors – for opportunities in self-employment. That transition, though it comes with more freedom, often requires a massive pay cut. According to the Pew study the average annual earnings lost of those senior employees moving into the self-employed sector is over $18,000.

“That’s a big chunk of change,” said Berrios of the average wage losses. “I thought about going into business for myself a couple of times, but found I’d be doing pretty much the same thing I am now.”

For now, Berrios added, he’s content making his sales calls and coming home to his dogs, “for a few more years, anyway.”





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