Dear Bettie:

My last visit to the grocery store left me sad and concerned for my parents. I was taken aback by the number of elderly people working there.

I’m nearly 30 and work in the healthcare field. Upon the advice of my mom, I’ve already begun planning for my future. I am saving, paying down my college debt and have begun contributing to a retirement fund. It’s tough, but I don’t want to work at a grocery store when I’m in my 70s or 80s.

Why are there so many seniors working at hourly jobs? It really scares me.

Worried About Seniors

Dear Worried About Seniors:

First let me congratulate you on your financial planning. Many professionals of all generations could learn from your lead. It’s important to save and plan for retirement as early as possible.

Next, let me offer some calming thoughts. Your perception that seniors have to work at hourly jobs most likely applies to a very small segment of working older adults.

AARP reports that retiring workers leave the full-time workforce and re-enter as part-time workers. Since the birth of the Boomer generation in the mid 1950s, life expectancy has increased from 68 years in 1950 to 79 years in 2010. Advances in healthcare make it possible for many Americans to live well into their 80s. Increased longevity not only challenges the timing of retirement, but also the societal norms of what people do in their 60s and 70s.

Retirement is changing. People are working past 65 and many seniors are staying in or returning to the workforce, either full time, part time or as consultants or independent contractors. They can be found working at grocery stores, in libraries, as bookkeepers or even launching their own businesses. 

According to a study from the Families and Work Institute, this change is in part because they believe they would be bored by not working and are eager to stay engaged in their communities.

As reported in U.S. News, the study “Working in Retirement—A 21st Century Phenomenon,”cites many non-financial objectives motivate older people to continue working. Some of these reasons include:

  • I would be bored not working (31 percent).
  • I want to feel productive, useful, helpful (18 percent)
  • I have a job that is fun, enjoyable (15 percent)
  • I want to interact with people (13 percent)
  • I want to stay physically/mentally active (12 percent)
  • I am pursuing my dream: I have a job doing what I want to (6 percent)
  • I want to learn new things (2 percent)

As lifespan increases, you can expect to see a multi-generational workforce across all areas of employment. So, the next time you are greeted by someone your parents’ or even grandparents’ age, no worries. Take a moment to appreciate their continued participation in your community. Congratulate them for leading active, productive lives.

Live long and prosper,