A longtime friend in Illinois asked pointedly in an email this week: “Why in hell are you still working? You’re 71. Why don’t you slow down?”
Yes I still work for a living, partly because I love what I’m doing and partly because I have to. My 401K retirement program is gone. Health care needs for my mother took care of it. Not planned, but necessary. Family came first.
Without that, however, I would still be working because I cannot imagine now doing so. I’m not alone feeling that way.
“I consider myself to be a very fortunate person to still do what I loved at 27 at 74,” says Steve Burghardt, a professor of social work at the City University of New York.
Recent studies show increased reliance on a senior work force in some areas of the country.
Reports the Associated Press:
“It’s good for GDP growth overall and it’s generally just good for the health of the overall economy,” says Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at employment hub Glassdoor, referring to senior participation in the workforce.
Two Washington suburbs, Falls Church, Virginia, and Alexandria, Virginia, are among the nation’s leaders in terms of senior labor force participation, with rates of nearly 37% and nearly 30%, respectively. This area is also home to one of the fastest growing senior labor forces in the country — three of the 11 counties that saw senior participation rates climb the fastest between 2009 and 2017 are located within 70 miles (113 kilometers) of Washington.
But large, populous counties don’t have a monopoly on senior participation in the labor force.
Vermont, one of the least populous states, holds two counties that rank among the top 100 (Windham and Washington counties) and eight among the top 329 in terms of senior participation.
“Despite whatever misnomers might exist, there is a great demand out there for mature workers,” says Mary Branagan, director of program and partner affairs at Associates for Training and Development, a workforce training and development outfit headquartered in Vermont.
Continued senior employment is also found in rural, agricultural counties. Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa have considerable senior employment rates in labor intensive jobs. The National Bureau of Labor Statistics data show higher than normal median ages in such areas.
Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, says older workers “are an economic boon to regional economies, increasing tax revenues, stimulating growth with more consumer spending and providing additional talent and expertise at a time of low unemployment.”
Actor-director Clint Eastwood is still active in movies at age 89. For better or worse, depending on your political point of view, the president of the United States is 72 and turns 73 in three days. The current leading Democrat to possibly unseat him in 2020 is 76. Another contender is 77.
The Census’ 2017 American Community Survey report says some counties of at least 6,000 residents have at least 21 percent of seniors either working or actively seeking jobs. About 25 percent of those counties are found in Virginia, the report says.
I began working full-time as a newspaperman in 1963, while still a student in high school. Today, 56 years later, I’m still working and the bulk of that work is back with the same newspaper after more than 40 years on the road in jobs that have taken me around the world and witnessed much of the news of our time.
In 1965, as a 17-year-old reporter for The Roanoke Times, I was asked if I was not “a little too young to be doing what your are doing?” Now, I’m asked if I’m too old to still be doing much of the same things at 71.
Let’s hope not.