Nation & World

Seniors keep working: More are staying on the job - some for money, some for fulfillment

Stateline/TNS

Wilber Ruiz (left) hoped to retire to his native Peru by now, but at 67 he’s still at work — retrieving carts and greeting customers at a, Ashburn, Va., store.
Stateline/TNS Wilber Ruiz (left) hoped to retire to his native Peru by now, but at 67 he’s still at work — retrieving carts and greeting customers at a, Ashburn, Va., store.

ASHBURN, Va. — At 76, Anne Doane still stocks shelves in a Wegmans market in Asburn.

“I never saved throughout my life, so therefore I have to do this,” Doane said. “And because I like it. I want to get out of the house, I want to talk to people. And I need the money.”

More U.S. workers are continuing to work after age 65, out of financial need and to stay busy, a trend the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics sees increasing. The bureau projects the share of seniors working or looking for jobs to rise from 19.6 percent in 2018 to 23.3 percent in 2028, nearly double the rate of 1998, when it was less than 12 percent.

More than 165,000 seniors work in grocery stores, earning an average of about $31,000 a year. About half of the more than 9 million workers 65 and older are in retail, health care, business services or education, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data and a Stateline analysis of Current Population Survey microdata.

Some of the highest-paying jobs for seniors are in colleges and universities, where the average salary for the age group is more than $93,000 a year, and in charity and advocacy groups, where the average for the age group is more than $107,000 a year.

It might be a shock for people to find that they can’t get by on Social Security alone, especially for those who claim their benefits before they turn 70.

Social Security maxes out at $2,209 a month for those who file at 62 and $3,770 for those who file at 70. It’s particularly tough when the cost of living is high — in areas such as Ashburn in Loudoun County, a fast-growing Washington, D.C., suburb where more than a quarter of people 65 and older hold jobs, according to recent census data.

Working “by older age groups bottomed out in the mid-1990s, when Social Security was more generous and defined-benefit pensions were more common,” said Brian Asquith, an economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalmazoo, Mich. Growth in the number of older workers since then has been slower than expected, he said.

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Even union jobs might not provide much of a pension now. Venorica Tucker, 70, has had a union job as a banquet server for 30 years, commuting from suburban Maryland to the U.S. House of Representatives. She works for a catering contractor, putting in long days that extend from early-morning breakfasts to evening receptions. Her Food and Beverage Workers Union has a pension plan, but it’s a lump sum of less than $20,000, she said.

“I had all these ideas about how one could live well (after age 65), but those ideas didn’t pan out,” said Tucker, who has worked similar jobs since the early 1960s, when she was 12, and now holds a second job as a bartender.

Immigrants often have little choice but to keep working after 65, said Wilber Ruiz, 67, who retrieves carts at a Giant supermarket in Ashburn. He had once hoped to be retired at this age in his native Peru, reading literature and writing poetry.

“Under the conditions that most Latinos are in, it’s to pay for an apartment, pay for a car to get to work. They survive,” Ruiz said. “That’s all.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that as older people return to the job market, people 16 to 24 are not seeking jobs as much as they once did — partly because they’re staying in school, pursuing the benefits of college degrees. But part of the reason is that older workers now hold the kinds of jobs that entry-level workers once did.

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