- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003


The number of Americans past retirement age and in the job market has risen by half in the last two decades, the Census Bureau says.

Some want to keep working. Others have no choice.

The number of people 65 and older who are working or looking for work is almost 4.5 million, the bureau said in a report released Tuesday — a rise of almost 50 percent between 1980 and 2002.

It amounts to 13.2 percent of the 65-and-older population of 33.8 million in March 2002.

In 1980 about 3 million people — 12.6 percent of the 24.2 million Americans 65 and older — were in the labor force. The share of those older people working declined to 11.9 percent in 1990, but has risen steadily since then.

Some work for a career change they couldn’t pursue earlier in life, such as opening a small business.

Others return to the work force amid worries that stock-market losses and Social Security won’t be able to cover prescription-drug costs and other needs.

With the economy still struggling, expect more workers to forgo retirement for a job, said Edward Coyle, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans.

“People are more nervous now than they were a year ago,” Mr. Coyle said. “You have lots of folks approaching retirement age, scratching their heads and wondering if they can do it.”

The latest Census Bureau data comes from a nationwide survey of 70,000 homes in March 2002 that covered a range of socioeconomic characteristics, from income to education. Among other findings:

• About one-third of those 65 and older live alone. That’s virtually unchanged since 1980.

• Roughly 1 in 10 lives in poverty.

• More than 8 of 10 homes headed by an older person are owned, a high since 1982 but in line with the overall growth of homeownership in the United States.

• About 18 percent of men 65 and older were in the labor force, almost twice the rate for women.

While some seniors have simply delayed retirement and others have taken the opportunity to open small businesses, others were forced back into the labor market. Most of these people took low-level administrative or service jobs, which were plentiful during the late 1990s, said Jared Bernstein, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute.

More than 15 percent of 65-and-over employees worked in sales in 2002, the largest share of any occupation. Then came professional fields, such as architecture or medicine, and clerical jobs.

Congress voted in 1983 to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67 by 2027. The change may have encouraged some older workers in the 1980s and 1990s to put off retirement even though the change didn’t immediately affect them, said John Haaga, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a research group.

Other reasons cited by Mr. Haaga: People are living longer, healthier lives and feel like working longer, and more women are returning to work after raising children.

Concerns over the solvency of Social Security, rising health care costs and the faltering economy have played roles too, Mr. Bernstein said.

In March, government trustees said Medicare, the health care program for seniors, would be insolvent by 2026, four years earlier than previously predicted. Social Security’s projected insolvency date is 2042.

The stock market swoon of recent years put a dent in many workers’ retirement reserves as well, forcing some to head back to work, Mr. Bernstein said.

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