Age 65 and Not Ready or Able to Go

By Martha M. Hamilton
Sunday, January 14, 2007

Here's the harsh reality for those of us who have become worker-capitalists, responsible for funding our own retirement: We can't afford to stop working at normal retirement age.

Typically workers have retired around age 62 or 63, although most anticipated staying on the job till age 65. But that will be way too soon for the many workers who haven't accumulated enough in retirement savings accounts.

One in four workers currently in their 50s will need to work an extra two years because retirement won't be affordable, according to a survey of employers published last month by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

The prospect of working longer is not necessarily bad news for many of us. After all, the world of work has many satisfactions beyond the paycheck. And increased longevity and better health argue for remaining engaged in the world of work longer than in the past.

But the truth is that finding or even retaining a job after the age of 40 isn't always easy. An earlier study by the Center for Retirement Research found that one in five adults age 51 to 61 lost his or her job between 1992 and 2002.

Lloyd Welter of Rockville knows the frustration of job-hunting in your 60s firsthand. He lost his last full-time job at U.S. Pharmacopeia three years ago and has yet to find another full-time position. Can he afford to retire at his current age of 65? "Oh, no, no," he said. He worked abroad for most of his career, including 15 years with Catholic Relief Services. He has a handful of small retirement savings from various jobs but not enough.

Welter said he is doing corporate recruiting over the phone as a part-time job and is active at 40Plus of Greater Washington while he continues to look for full-time work. The hunt can be logistically frustrating because of the need to format online résumés and applications differently for each employer.

And then, there's the age issue.

"It's something you can't put your finger on," said Welter. "You walk in, and you can't disguise yourself. If I'm 65, I'm going to look roughly 65. I can't be something I'm not."

Steven A. Sass, associate director for research at the Center for Retirement Research, said the normal age of retirement needs to be higher, both for personal reasons and societal ones. "It would take the burden off the retirement system."

Right now, he noted, most folks work 40 years to fund a retirement approximately 20 years long, which is a 2 to 1 ratio. If the balance changed to 45 years of work and 15 years of retirement (a 3 to 1 ratio), "then the arithmetic looks a lot easier."

The arithmetic doesn't look so good today: The median balance in 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts for workers in their 50s is just $60,000, which won't pay the bills for many years.

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