Survey: Many Put Retirement on Hold

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 15, 2016

The Associated Press (AP)-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, funded by The Alfred Sloan Foundation, released a study this month that finds that departing the workforce at the traditional retirement age of 65 is no longer a reality for most older Americans. This new study extends the research of an earlier 2013 retirement study to look at efforts made by older workers to improve career skills and their plans to adjust the parameters of work in later stages of their work life. It also takes a look at a variety of implications of the trend of working longer along with the motivations for doing so.

The 10 page report, released on May 10, 2016, finds that there are large numbers of older Americans who are currently, or who expect to be, working longer. However, researchers caution that this does not necessarily mean that older workers are continuing with the same employment circumstances indefinitely. Many are either reducing their hours to part-time status or are planning to switch to a new employer or even a new field. (The AP-NORC study confirms the findings of an AARP retirement study reported in my September 14, column, entitled “Still Getting the Job Done” that noted “new retirement activity.”)

The Graying of America’s Work Force

The AP-NORC survey comes at a time when the size of the nation’s older population is larger than it has ever been and projected to keep growing, say the researchers. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of Americans age 65 and older rose from 35.9 million to 44.7 million. In the next quarter century, this number is expected to rise to 82.3 million. The percentage of the overall population that falls within this group will rise from 14.1 percent in 2013 to 21.7 percent in 2040, notes the study.

“The circumstances and future plans of older Americans must be well understood by decision-makers,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. “Not only are older Americans going to work longer, but 4 in 10 respondents are planning to change career fields in the future. These results point to significant changes in the American workforce with impacts likely felt by workers and employers.”

No Plans for Retirement

Here is a sampling of key findings reported in The AP-NORC’s “Working Longer” study:

According to the survey, a quarter of older workers say they plan to never retire, with this response being more common among lower-income workers than higher-income workers. Specifically, 33 percent of those earning less than $50,000 a year saying they will never retire, compared with 20 percent of those who earn $100,000 or more.

The findings also indicate that more than half of older workers plan to be employed past the traditional retirement age of 65 or already have worked past this age. Additionally, six in 10 older workers age 50 to 64 plan to work past the age of 65. Nearly half of those who are 65 and older say they already work or plan to work during this later stage of life, notes the study.

The study reveals that members of the workforce who are age 65 and older are not limiting themselves to occasional work–this group reports an average of 31 hours per week in the workplace.

Additionally, more than 4 in 10 Americans age 50 and older have spent at least 20 years working for the same employer at some point in their careers. These workers are more excited and less anxious about retirement than those without such long histories with a single employer, says the study..

The findings also show that a majority of the older Americans who are planning to remain in or rejoin the workforce are planning to switch either professional fields or employers in the future. Those who are age 65 and older are especially likely to plan a change. In addition, a sizeable minority of older workers are taking steps to keep their skill sets fresh by pursuing job training or additional education.

Finally, a quarter of adults age 50 and older have looked for a job in the past five years. Many of them are encountering difficulties in the job market, with a third reporting that it has been so difficult that they’ve given up looking at some point during their search.

Fear of Outliving Retirement Savings

“One could say that the [The AP-NORC] survey simply leads us back to the same ‘old’ story,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “But what is ‘old’ and what are we going to do about it? The survey provides more data to underscore the need for policy changes as well as a refocusing on employment and retirement. In a single generation, the world has changed. On the upside, the numbers reflect people in better health working longer, and many of those folks continue to be fulfilled in their jobs. But we all know that for most people this trend stems from the fear of outliving savings, often compounded by the inability to save substantially for retirement.

“Worries about Social Security are in the mix, also, as people worry that benefits someday may not cover the cost of housing, food and healthcare. The thought of any future reduction in Social Security benefits is daunting. That’s why AARP continues to ask presidential candidates to ‘Take a Stand,” by providing specific plans to address necessary changes in the program. As we have been saying, doing nothing is not an option.

“One of the encouraging trends revealed in the survey is that many workers over 65 say they are certain that they will change jobs or careers before they retire. It says to me that the message is kicking in that reaching what we once accepted as ‘retirement age’ no longer holds people back.”

A total of 1,075 interviews were conducted for this AP-NORC survey with adults age 50 and older representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The combined response rate is 14.2 percent. The overall margin of sampling error is +/- 3.9 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level, including the design effect. The margin of sampling error may be higher for subgroups.

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