Dr. B. Boomer — an unfortunate, but fictional, dentist — worked and saved for years, only to see her portfolio shrivel after a series of investments in orthodontia-related dot-coms a decade ago. She then put her money into seemingly safe financial firms, like A.I.G., and was hammered during the subsequent downturn. Her plan to retire by selling her Scottsdale McMansion isn’t going well either. So the poor woman is spending her 65th year, not in glorious retirement, but fixing fillings for screaming children and generally annoyed adults.
Dr. Boomer is hardly alone. Retirement seems out of the question for increasing numbers of Americans who are saddled with debt and whose savings evaporated during the recent bust. Today’s workers should expect to labor longer, and companies should expect to employ more older workers.
The numbers supply a vivid picture of America’s graying work force. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of working Americans over 65 years old jumped 16 percent; the number of under-65’s in the labor force shrank. The trend started before the current downturn: the number of Americans over 65 in the labor force increased from 10.8 percent in 1985 to 12.1 percent in 1995 to 15.1 percent in 2005 to 17.4 percent in 2010. Until 2001, most workers age 65 and older had part-time jobs; since 2001, full-time work has been far more common.
Consider the difference between today’s extended work life and the average American work life during the mid-20th century in the midst of what was, in retrospect, a retirement boom. Again, the numbers present a vivid picture: from the ’40s to the ’80s, the percentage of men who were 65 and older in the labor force fell precipitously — from 47 percent in 1949 to 15.6 percent in 1993. By the 1980s, retirement at age 65 was nearly universal for American workers.
Source: The New York Times, November 20, 2011
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