For millions of workers retirement has been delayed for years; others may never retire. Thanks to the nation’s massive asset meltdown – sagging retirement accounts, plunging property values – an enormous swath of the population has had to redefine their life path. Older folks who assumed they would be retired by now are struggling with the need to work long after the passion to work has faded. The result of this is a profound shift in the workforce.
The number of people over age 65 working reached an all-time low in 2001 when just 13% held a job. Now the rate is rebounding, and fast; last summer it hit 18%, a level not seen since Kennedy faced the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) According to the Urban Institute about one in seven taxpayers is over 65.
Now many Boomers are facing a bipolar stock market, a pathetic return on savings and are feeling deeply insecure; in one recent AP survey one in four predicted they would never be able to retire. Millions of workers in their 50’s and 60’s have quietly given up on the dream of an early retirement or an encore career doing something they are passionate about.
Labor experts say this wave of delayed retirees will face huge challenges. They were not prepared for the sharp reversal in expectations, nor the difficulties of working while elderly. For better or worse this group is blazing a trail that subsequent generations of workers may wind up walking.
Now workers toiling into their winter years are facing new challenges thanks to the nation’s transition from a manufacturing powerhouse to a service economy, the demands now facing senior workers now tend to be mental rather than physical. U.S. jobs on the whole now require more brain power than they used to.
While some mental abilities hold steady with age – verbal skills and job know-how are subject inevitable decline after the age 50. This slowdown affects nearly everyone. The typical senior takes twice as long to complete a simple number sequence test according to neuropsychologist Bill Beckwith.