‘One more run’: How to put off retirement and find another gig you like
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the trend of older people working to continue, estimating that 13 million Americans age 65 and older will be in the labor force by 2024.
Right before his 60th birthday and newly retired, Bill Hyman entertained an uncomfortable thought, he recalled. He felt invisible.
For 20 years, the Elkins Park resident had worked as a well-connected human resources executive at Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense company. After leaving Lockheed at 57, he accepted a second, high-pressure position within months as a senior vice president for staffing agency CDI Corp. in Center City. However, about three years later, Hyman’s division was sold off, and he found himself unemployed again.
At first, Hyman and his wife welcomed retirement — they took a long-planned two-week cruise, played squash, and began to settle into a quieter, less stressful routine. But Hyman found it tough to relax. And there was something else.
“When you’re inside a company for so many years, you get all these ego strokes and the prestige that comes with it,” he said. “I went from people asking me at parties what I was doing at work to coping with the loss of who I used to be.”
Deciding he had “one more run,” Hyman, now 62, built a business plan and started his consulting firm: WAH HR Consulting Services LLC, which specializes in helping people find the perfect fit for employment. Building on his contacts, he constructed his new firm focused on duties and tasks from the previous positions that he enjoyed.
Older Americans are increasingly putting off retirement or picking up a part-time job for various reasons that include, not surprisingly, financial need.
Some, however, are not ready to give up on the sense of social status, daily structure, and community connection that a job can give.
“Across the population, people do want to work longer,” said Martha J. Deevy, senior research scholar and director of the Financial Security Division at the Stanford Center on Longevity in California. “The primary factor is to give their lives meaning and purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. And working post-retirement often gives people a greater chance to control their own schedules.”
Between July and September 2020, about 28.6 million baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — retired, about 3.2 million more than the 25.4 million who retired during the same period of 2019, according to the latest figures from Pew Research Center.
By 2034, 77 million people in the United States will reach retirement age, according to the Census Bureau.
While earlier generations viewed retirement as a time for rest and relaxation, in the last 10 to 15 years, the retirement age has crept up to 68. As of February 2019, more than 20% of Americans aged 65 or older were working or looking for work, a 57-year high, according to federal data.
“Many cite the purpose and meaning they achieve through working, while others continue to fill in financial or benefit gaps,” Deevy said. “It could be part-time work, seasonal work, or work on demand. Many, no longer climbing the corporate ladder, wanted to mentor or give back. And while no one can predict the future, those motivations didn’t change during the pandemic.”
Finances often play a role, said Julie Cohen, career coach, CEO and founder of Work. Life. Leader.
Although life expectancy in the U.S. declined from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.8 years in 2020, baby boomers are healthier than earlier generations, and many 65-year-olds may live long enough post-retirement to strain savings.
For low-income workers, who may have chosen to take early and reduced Social Security payments to make ends meet, and who haven’t accumulated adequate savings for retirement, stopping work isn’t an option.
And the numbers of those extending their working lives have been on the rise because of the pandemic’s economic turmoil. More than eight in 10 Americans (82%) said events of the last year affected retirement plans, Fidelity reported. One-third estimated that it would take two to three years to get back on track due to such factors as job loss or retirement withdrawals.
About 1.6 million Fidelity clients withdrew a total of $32 billion between April and December through CARES Act distributions. That represented 6.3% of retirement plan participants at Fidelity. The median totaled $2,500, the average $9,400, and roughly 51,000 people withdrew the full $100,000 limit.
For some high-wage workers such as Hyman, however, money concerns have not been driving this trend to return to work, at least pre-pandemic. “What I see are people in their 50s, 60s and 70s starting new businesses and seeing opportunities to contribute,” Cohen said. “People are still vital. Personally, I’m 53, and I can’t imagine thinking about ‘retirement’ in the next 10 to 15 years.”
Across the wage scale, some seniors have chosen to ease into retirement by taking part in the gig economy — no-frills, no-benefit jobs for flexibility and income, working as everything from Uber or Lyft drivers to seasonal retail workers.
Layoffs of highly paid and skilled white-collar workers during the pandemic may also open more jobs for independent contractors, according to Upwork, a freelance staffing agency. Renting out rooms or houses on Airbnb has also been a popular option, where seniors fill the host’s role more than any other demographic.
“Pre-pandemic, people wanted to work longer and work differently — they often wanted to have more flexibility to control their own schedules,” Deevy said.
When Dan George of Elkins Park lost his Princeton IT job right before his 60th birthday, he decided he no longer wanted to work in the field but needed to bridge a benefits gap. Pre-COVID-19, he took a job at Trader Joe’s in Jenkintown for eight years.
“I didn’t want a career anymore,” he said. “And they were willing to take a chance on me because I had never worked retail.”
As the population ages, Marc Freedman, CEO and president of Encore.org, a nonprofit that matches older workers with young people to bring age diversity to schools, workplaces, and social movements, views the future of work after retirement as being as “unique as people’s interests.”
“People enjoy having colleagues and a strong sense of purpose,” Freedman said. “They’re also interested in mentoring younger workers and sharing what they’ve learned through their years of experience.”
Marcella Blakney Collins, 64, who worked for more than 30 years as a human resources executive for Fortune 500 companies and retired from Johnson & Johnson at 57, is doing just that. Her decision to retire after 10 years at J&J came as she was about to embark on a business trip to Europe.
“My mom was getting older, I had just married for the third time, and I said, ‘You know, I just don’t feel like getting on another plane.’”
Collins, who lives in East Mount Airy, spent about 18 months in retirement, but she was restless. During that time, she earned a career coaching certificate, made a business plan, then opened a consulting business.
“I looked over my life’s work and realized I had always been a community activist. My passion was to make sure I worked to level the playing field for underserved populations as it related to careers,” she said.
Along with following her passion, Collins found that her work helps her remain relevant. “Working with younger people can help you remain vital,” she said. “That’s what keeps me going. I can’t stop.”
To be sure, some retirees find meaning outside their 9-to-5 schedule, such as with church or grandchildren, said Helen Richardson, CEO and president of Career Consciousness, a human resources management firm. Yet, even those who don’t need work to maintain a sense of self can benefit from the increasing flexibility of employment.
“Now, people often retire because they are retirement age, but they don’t really need to retire,” Richardson said. “What they need is a different, more flexible way to work. It might be a two- or three-day work, or 20-hour week that accommodates older workers’ needs.”
Jane Finkle, a career consultant in Philadelphia, agreed. She often finds clients are loath to stop working but eager to leave the 9-to-5 grind.
“By that time in their lives, many baby boomers may have developed an intense knowledge or expertise in a certain area,” Finkle said. “Sometimes they want to continue working in a part of their job that they really enjoy and devote more time to those areas.”
If you do plan to continue to work after retirement, Barbara Collins, 76, a midlife transition expert in Collegeville, urges people to ask themselves early on how they want to engage in that time of their lives.
“For some, it may be volunteering, but for others, it may be work,” she said. It might be turning a hobby into a business or pursuing a creative desire.
Collins speaks from personal experience. Following a career as a training and diversity expert at CoreStates bank, she left after a skills assessment revealed that she might not be happy in a corporate environment. Taking it as a sign, she headed back to school to get her doctorate and explore a more creative career. After writing two books and 25 years of college teaching, she retired to figure out her next move.
Her “retirement” years have been jam-packed. After her daughter encouraged her to try modeling at 60, she snagged a Footlocker campaign at her first interview. While she continues to model, she also started Positive Trends, a consulting firm that helps women plan for their future with a “sense of purpose and discovery.”
“Everyone is different,” she acknowledged. “For some, retirement is a time to take a pause. For others, it’s a time when you can do anything you want to do.”
Staff Writer Erin Arvedlund contributed to this article.
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