By Norm Wilkens
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye because, at first glance, it seemed to be describing my lifestyle. The article was about why the elderly keep working, or have to work, well into their normal retirement years. Well, that could explain why into my mid-seventies, I am still gainfully employed. Yet, after digesting the entire article, I believe it left out an important element that is essential to my work-a-day-world.
According to figures collected in 2010, a high percentage of Americans over the age of 75 (5.6%) are still seeking some form of work experience. That is up from 2.6% in 2006. As of this past December (2011), the piece indicated that there were 1.31 million people ages 75 and older still working – a 25% jump from 2005! And, if my figures are correct, when the 78 million baby boomers begin hitting their seventies, those figures will expand even more dramatically. Those seeking employment could jump to over 10% seeking employment by 2018! These two questions remain: why is this happening and what future impact will this phenomenon have on our economy and society?
It is easy to address this issue by merely stating that people who were born in the 1930s spent all of their money in their early lives having a good time and didn’t save as their parents did. To some extent, that has some truth. However, the present day economy has had a major impact on savings and investments. A lot of 70-year-olds thought they had put aside enough money to live out a fairly comfortable life only to watch their investments wilt away over the past five years. These folks are not particularly happy about having to work so that they might be able to live close to the lifestyle they had hoped to enjoy without working.
Secondly, very few of the people now moving through their seventies to their eighties ever imagined they would live as long as they have. No matter what is said regarding our present healthcare system, it has provided longer and more rewarding good, healthful living than we could have ever imagined just fifty years ago. Most life-tables indicate that boomers will probably skip through their seventies and maybe even their eighties. A lot of physicians today strongly believe that those reaching age 100 will far surpass the 100,000 who presently hold that position. Therefore, for many boomers, their active lifestyle can certainly help them live into the mid-twenty-first century.
Social Security and many pension plans cannot keep up with this increasing longevity. And, those of us who are experiencing this phenomenon are starting to realize that perhaps our planning was a bit faulty. But many of us also have come to understand that we also want to continue working because we are still enjoying life and don’t want to slow down. Consider this: Social Security, in 1981. paid 52% of an average worker’s pre-retirement earnings. Twenty years later, in 2001, that figure had shrunk to 39% and, no doubt, will continue dropping.
There is increased awareness that insurance can have a significant role in future planning for upcoming generations. Clearly, the old-reliable insurance premium, started at a young age, can offer beneficial returns at elder ages when costs are prohibitive. Certainly a Whole Life Policy worth $500,000 can offer wonderful security when purchased at birth with a payout at age 75.
Is there an answer to the question I posed early in this article? My main reason for my continued employment is that I thoroughly enjoy working! That’s right. As unusual as it may seem, I enjoy keeping up with today’s challenges in the working world. In an effort to stay as young and alert as possible, today’s work environment keeps one on his or her toes. And, past experiences help with that drive for success.
In the past ten years, I have given marketing seminars in forty-seven states and have driven a rental car in most of those states. I have talked to as many as three-hundred people in a coliseum and as few as four in a classroom and have loved every minute of it. These eight-hour seminars were only a part of the eighteen-hour days that included preparation and travel time between sessions. But I’m still going strong!
It is my firm belief that my generation – those who came out of the thirties – will be remembered and fortunate for missing some of the horrific struggles of World War II – but will also be considered among the first to realize that the work ethic is one we engaged and won. I hope to be seeing you at the office in five years!