Older Americans are Turning Their Backs on Retirement

Author: Ina Jaffe
Source: NPR

Bob Orozco barks out instructions like a drill sergeant. The 40 or so older adults in this class follow his lead, stretching and bending and marching in place.

It goes like this for nearly an hour, with 89-year-old Orozco doing every move he asks of his class. He does that in each of the 11 classes he teaches every week at this YMCA in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

“I probably will work until something stops me,” Orozco says.

He may be an outlier, still working at 89, but statistics show that there may be more people like him in the near future. About 1 in 4 adults age 65 and older is now in the workforce. That number is expected to increase, making it the fastest-growing group of workers in the country.

Older adults are turning their backs on retirement for many reasons. Some, like Orozco, just love what they do. Others, though, need the money, and there are a lot of reasons why they do.

The days of working for one company that would take care of you after you retire are long gone. Few private sector workers now have traditional, defined benefit pensions, where you’re paid a fixed stipend for life depending on your salary and years of service.

Most retirement funds now are 401(k) types, where the employer and employee contribute a fixed amount and the money is invested in the stock market. During the worst of the last recession, 401(k) accounts lost almost one-third of their value. That was enough to change some would-be retirees’ plans.

Also, a recent survey found that about 50% of older Americans are dipping into their retirement savings to help their grown children. And some folks just haven’t saved enough: Baby boomers have median savings of a little over $150,000 to get through what could be a 30-year retirement.

Meanwhile, roughly half of private sector employers offer no retirement plans at all. That’s one of the reasons about a quarter of retirees get 90% or more of their income from Social Security.

NPR’s series introduces us to some older Americans as they navigate the new realities of work and retirement. Let’s meet them.

The worker

Bob Orozco is an institution at the YMCA in Laguna Niguel, Calif. An exercise studio here is named in his honor.

Orozco’s relationship with the YMCA began in early childhood. Growing up poor in Johnstown, Pa., during the Depression he was named “a worthy boy” by a local charity. That distinction came with a free membership to the Y, and one thing led to another. He worked for the YMCA in Rochester, N.Y., as well as for the national organization. Then about 30 years ago, he moved to Southern California so he could retire someplace where the weather was good.

Only he didn’t retire.

“If I retired, I really don’t know what I would be doing with myself,” Orozco says. “And as long as I’m capable, I want to be able to be a contribution and not a slug.”

Orozco has company. Nearly a quarter of American workers say they don’t think they’ll ever retire, though more than a third of them do stop working earlier than planned. The reasons include health setbacks, layoffs or age discrimination.

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