Working staves off retirement woes for 65-plus employees in Eastern Iowa

Statistics show that more retirement-age individuals work longer

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Working at Hy-Vee saved Mike Berry from cleaning out his garage more than 15 times in less than eight weeks, and it also allowed the 76-year-old a chance to work in a grocery store again.

Berry, who owned a grocery store in Michigan for more than 30 years, tried retirement for a few weeks before he got a call from a manager for the wine and spirits department at Cedar Rapids’s Johnson Avenue Hy-Vee. Berry’s son worked for an alcohol distributor and worked with Hy-Vee, and he connected Berry with the manager.

“I was home six to eight weeks,” Berry recalled. “I was getting on everybody’s nerves. I was standing in the garage wondering, ‘What else am I going to do?’

“He called me and said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’”

For the past nine years, Berry has worked at that Hy-Vee training other employees on how to interact with customers.

He’s not alone. A rising share of Americans is holding jobs into their golden years, bucking the overall trend of people leaving the labor force that is concerning Federal Reserve policymakers trying to boost growth.

The share of those over the age of 65 in the labor force was 19.4 percent on an unadjusted basis in June, up from 15 percent in June 2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, the overall labor force participation rate last month was an adjusted 62.7 percent, down from 66.2 percent a decade ago and hovering near the lowest point since 1977.

In Iowa, the workforce included 23.1 percent of men 65 or older and 13.4 percent of women, according to a 2011 U.S. Census Labor Force Characteristics report.

Like Berry, Don Krueger, 80, said he gave retirement a shot for six months before being pulled out of boredom 13 years ago to his current job as a paint associate at Home Depot in Cedar Rapids.

“It’s a lot of time that you’ve got to fill,” Krueger said. “Twenty years ago, I decided I was going to make it to 100.

“After a short period (in retirement), I knew I wasn’t going to make it if I didn’t do something. People say going to work gets old. Doing the same routine from chair to chair gets old, too.”

And as older workers continue to stay in the workforce, their paychecks are fueling spending and contributing to the U.S. economic expansion.

“The fact that their income is boosted by being employed will mean they spend more than their cohort who is retired,” said Dean Maki, chief economist at Point72 Asset Management in Stamford, Conn.

While many point to the recession wiping out retirement savings as a catalyst for seniors to keep working, the rise in the past decade is part of a long-term trend. The participation rate for the 65-plus group began climbing in the mid-1980s after falling for four decades when flush Social Security benefits created an incentive to retire.

“They were leaving a lot of potential on table,” said Matt Rutledge, an economist at Boston College whose research focuses on labor market outcomes for the elderly. “They could’ve helped shore up their own financial needs, they could’ve helped a younger generation if they needed support, and they could’ve contributed more taxes into the system.

“If they were not working, they were not doing those things.”

Economists attribute numerous factors to the rebound in older people working, but point to better health as the main driver. In addition, jobs are becoming less physically demanding.

They “are worried their life span is going to outpace their wealth span,” said Joseph Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.

Though Berry, Kime and Gould said they don’t live solely off the money from their earnings at Hy-Vee — Gould said she also receives Social Security and others receive pensions from previous jobs — they do not have to eat into their savings.

Robert Lathrop, 82, who recently dodged boredom by working at Hy-Vee after a three-year stint in retirement, said he is saving up to take a trip to Europe with his when she retires in six years. Kime uses his earnings to travel and compete in Samba and swing-dancing competitions with his wife.

“If I’m not working here, I won’t be able to do the things I’m doing now, if you keep taking from your savings,” Berry reasoned.

More elderly are refusing to slow down. A Pew Center analysis of Labor Department data showed that the proportion of 65 or older workers that are part-timers fell to 36.1 percent in May, from 46.1 percent in May 2000.

The only thing Krueger knows for sure is that he doesn’t believe he will work after he turns 100.

The same is true for Jon Kime, 69, a retired firefighter who has worked at Hy-Vee since 1997, and Pam Gould, 71, who has worked at the Johnson Avenue Hy-Vee since the 1970s.

Kime, Lathrop, Gould and Berry said working is something they look forward to every day because it gives them a chance to get out of the house and interact with customers, many of whom in turn look for the employees when they come in the store to swap jokes.

“Don’t ask me when I quit because I just don’t know,” Kime said. “I don’t think about it. I can give you two answers I give for a joke: I don’t know of any game show I want to watch that bad. The other one is, one something breaks for falls off, I’ll retire.”

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