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Working After Retirement

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Nancy Trejos and Deborah Russell
Washington Post Staff Writer and Director of Workforce Issues, AARP
Wednesday, October 15, 2008; 10:30 AM

Washington Post staff writer Nancy Trejos hosted a chat on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at 10:30 a.m. ET with guest Deborah Russell, director of workforce issues at the AARP, on baby boomers who work after retiring.

A transcript follows.

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Nancy Trejos: Good morning. Thanks for joining our chat this morning. Deborah Russell of AARP and I are here to answer your questions about retirement issues.

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DC: The title of your chat is itself a comment on the new world we live in. Traditionally, "retirement" has meant the time when you stopped working for money, and it didn't usually come until age 65 or later. Then you went fishing or did volunteer work or took care of the grandchildren etc. Now people "retire" in their 50s, sometimes not so voluntarily, and go to work someplace else, often for less money and prestige. Plumbers and carpenters put away their tools and sell stuff at Home Depot, English teachers get jobs in bookstores or do private tutoring, journalists start blogs from their living rooms. Sometimes people work at jobs they don't like for salaries they might not even need just to keep health coverage. I've started to see older folks working next to the teens in fast-food places. So what do you mean by "retirement"? When is working in "retirement" really just a late-life career change, accompanied by a wide range of life adjustments?

Deborah Russell: DC: AARP research shows that boomers intend to work past traditional retirement age both for the money and the health insurance. That means that the workforce will not only be older but more age diverse. Multiple generations working side-by-side will be the norm. You will hear the reference to "third careers" which means more employers are contemplating ways to continue to engage older workers in job opportunities.

Nancy Trejos: There is even a term for what people are doing now. Instead of "retiring," they are "rewiring." That's because they are not doing what the retirees of yesteryear did. They are not necessarily moving down to Florida, moving into retirement communities or hanging out on the golf course. Many people are living longer, healthier lives and are capable of working longer. These days, many people are choosing that option because the stock market has hit their 401(k)s pretty hard or they didn't save enough money and the cost of living is so much higher. Others don't just want to sit at home and do nothing, and because employers are now more welcoming of mature workers, they are choosing to work longer.

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Reston, Va.: I have thirty years of experience developing software and managing software projects. I'm good and I've kept my skills current, but in recent years I'm only finding contract and part-time positions. I really need the benefits (health insurance!) of a full-time position.

Comment: the unemployment rate is largely meaningless because it doesn't reflect the many folks like me who are under-employed.

Question: it would be to employers' benefit to evaluate software people based on their skills instead of their age or recent degree. How do we convince them of this? (ADEA doesn't help at all.)

Deborah Russell: Reston VA: AARP has a program that helps 50+ workers with job opportunities. The AARP National Employer Team connects individual jobseekers with a wide variety of job opportunities. Go to www.aarp.org/employerteam. In addition, the aarp.org website has a host of information and tips for the older jobseeker. I would recommend that you take a look at the resources that are available.

Nancy Trejos: There are also plenty of web sites out there that help retirees find jobs, and some are even geared towards specific fields. I would also try RetirementJobs.com. Also, check with your state or county office for the aging. Your local community college might also have some resources for mature workers.

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Clinton, Md.: My dad was planning to retire within the next two years. He has been an instructor with the District of Columbia School System for the past 28 years. Until the recent down-surge in the stock market, he felt that he could transition smoothly into a new career endeavor. Now, he is concerned that he will not be able to retire. What support resources or suggestions do you recommend for someone like him, who is so close but afraid to now step into retirement because of the unsurety of the marketplace?

Deborah Russell: Clinton, Md: The following resources might be useful for your father:

AARP National Employer Team connects individual jobseekers with job. www.aarp.org/employerteam. In addition, AARP has a partnership with a job board focused on helping mature workers find successful employment. Go to www.aarp.org and you will see a link to retirementjobs.com. In addition, there is a wealth of resources on the aarp.org site for older jobseekers that assist in resume writing and interviewing skills along with overcoming barriers to employment because of age.

Good luck to your dad.

Nancy Trejos: If he is trying to choose between working longer or retiring, I would suggest he sit down with a financial planner and figure out if he does indeed need the income to keep coming in. If he does, there are plenty of resources out there to help him find either a part-time or full-time job. Along with AARP and RetirementJobs.com, there are other web sites that cater to retirees with specific skills. Also, check with your state or county government. They should have some sort of office for the aging that can assist in this area. There are also companies such SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) and Experience Corps that place mature workers. There are career centers throughout the country that help people plan their next career. Check www.servicelocator.org. You can also try My Next Phase at www.mynextphase.com, a retirement counseling firm. Or go to a career counselor. You can find one at www.ncda.org.

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Reston, Va.: The trend of working after retirement seems to be a great opening for creating more meaningful part-time jobs and job shares. This dovetails beautifully with what many younger workers raising children or caring for aging parents are looking for: flexible, but meaningful work. Will there be increased pressure on workplaces to create flexible jobs to engage good people who don't want full-time work, for whatever reason?

Deborah Russell: Reston VA: AARP research has shown that many mature workers are looking for more flexibility in their work due to a variety of reasons including for caregiving. Many of AARP's Best Employers for Workers Over 50 (www.aarp.org/bestemployers) offer flexible work opportunties including part-time, compressed work, telecommuting and more. These policies are not only good for mature workers but for a 21st Century workplace where technology will support employee's ability to work in a more flexible environment.

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Oviedo, Fla. single mom, 50: I just turned 50 and have girls aged 13 and 17. I plan to work into my mid-60s at least. I have savings/retirement funds into mid-six figures (gulp - check online) but no pension. As a Boomer I have tired of hearing how "we" are about to retire and now set on other careers, travel etc. The biggest bump of Boomers is still prime time and working and will be for years. Advance planning is great but stop nudging us off into the sunset a decade or more before most of us are ready. Teachers and other civil servants and military can check out very early, not so most of us.

Deborah Russell: Single Mom: Your are part of a growing number of boomers that don't intend on retiring anytime soon. A recent AARP report indicates that 70% of boomers plan to work past traditional retirement age both for the money and the health insurance. In addition, the report indicates that boomers want to work for both the physical and mental stimulation and feel they still have much experience and skills to offer the workplace. AARP actively works with employers that value the experience of mautre workers. Our 2008 AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50 has a list of companies that have been identified for their good policies and practices for 50+ workers. I encourage you to take a look and see what "employers of choice" are doing to meet your needs. Go to www.aarp.org/bestemployers.

Nancy Trejos: You will find that there are many people out there like you who don't plan on a traditional retirement. "The Golden Girls" are so 1980s. A lot of people will end up working past retirement age either because they want to or because they have to. Unemployment is ticking up so jobs will be scarce in some areas for people of all ages. But there are fields that will always need workers--particularly mature, skilled workers--such as health care.

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Durham, N.C.:

I am 52. Until I met with a financial consultant a few weeks ago, I was skeptical of retiring, especially since my teens are almost at college age.

We looked at my 401k (don't laugh), pension, SS, other assets, home ownership, etc.

He put all this stuff into a program and it looks like I may actually be able to retire! It felt great.

Of course he wants to sell me something, so he points out for $40 a month, I could have an even better retirement. It sounds like a stretch now, but I'm thinking of following his advice. Having some piece of mind might actually improve my health.

Are there any cautions you have for meeting with financial advisors? This fellow was with a well-known and "old" firm, it's been around since the 19th century.

Deborah Russell: If you want to do some homework on your own before you commit. Go to the aarp.org/money website and look for the Retirement Nest Egg calculator and do your own calculations. In addition, the site has information with regard to protecting your assets.

Nancy Trejos: Finding a good financial planner is as difficult as finding a good therapist. You really shouldn't go with the first person you meet. And just because the person is affiliated with a big firm doesn't mean he or she is the right planner for you. There are a few associations that can help you find and vet planners. They include the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors and the Financial Planning Association. But here are some initial tips. Feel free to interview several planners. Check the person's credentials. Anyone can call him or herself a financial planner. Make sure they've actually earned that right. Ask them how they are paid. Are they fee-only or do they work on commission? If they are fee-only, you will pay them one flat fee. Commission-based advisers typically get paid for selling a specific product. Check to see if they've ever had disciplinary action taken against them. The CFP board should be able to help you with that. Or if the planner is also a broker, you can do a background check through the National Association of Securities Dealers. The bottom line is it's your financial security. Don't trust it with just anyone.

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Atlanta, Ga.: The reality is that when social security was implemented, life expectancy was 65. You read that correctly.

It was implemented for those who were UNABLE to work. People rarely collected, and it was insurance.

Now people look to it as their retirement, feeling they are 'entitled' to not work and have younger workers pay for them to do that. We cannot sustain this system when life expectancy is 80+ and people are living past 100. What is needed is to raise the age at which benefits are collected - that will solve ALL the problems - not raising taxes MORE. Not MORE transfers. Many seniors are capable of working - so they should not be supported by the govt.

Deborah Russell: Actually,

People are working longer. AARP research consistently shows that boomers not only plan to work past retirement age but that they WANT to work, AARP Staying Ahead of the Curve Report. As Nancy Trejos' story today, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates, by 2016, the number of workers age 65 and over will soar by more than 80%. In addition, for those who are midcareer, Social Security won't be collected until age 67.

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Older workers: You know what, my experience with employers has been less than the positive you are describing. Age is definitely a factor in my area--I'm being phased out of one job (I've been there 10 years), and can't even get interviews for other jobs that I am interested in. Older folks work at McDonalds because no one else will hire them.

Deborah Russell: In a tight labor market, mature workers tend to take longer in finding employment. However there are resources that are out there that specifically addresses the challenges mature workers face in finding employment. I would encourage you to take a look at the aarp.org site where we have a partnership with a job board focused on helping older workers with jobs, retirementjobs.com

Nancy Trejos: Beyond AARP and RetirementJobs.com, there are so many non-profits, government agencies, and web sites out there that help mature workers find jobs. Here are some: Seniors4Hire.org, RetiredBrains.com, ExperienceWorks.org, YourEncore.com, Mynextphase.com. Also try the Next Chapter at www.civicventures.org or try a career center, which you can find at www.servicelocator.org. There are many other resources out there you can find by just doing a Google search.

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Middletown, N.J.: Hasn't the workplace changed so much in these past years that many retirees just don't have the skills to compete?

Deborah Russell: The workplace has changed in the past years. The most obvious is automation...technology. If you have retired and haven't kept up with today's workplace, you may be challenged. On the other hand, the fastest growing consumers on the internet are over the age of 50. AARP suggests that if you plan to go back to work, make sure that you assess your skills to ensure that you have the skills for that next job. There's a wealth of resources on the aarp.org site for older workers re-entering the workforce.

Nancy Trejos: Also, check with your local community colleges. Many of them offer training programs or classes specifically for mature workers. And check with your state or county department of the aging. Some of them also offer training.

Yes, the advance of technology is the biggest change, but there are many classes you can take to get you up to speed. My mother had never touched a computer before age 60. She decided a few years ago to take a class and now she emails and instant messages me all the time. She's even on Facebook!

The point is people can adapt with a little bit of help and motivation.

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Reston, Va.: You would think that employers would want to take advantage of the "rewiring" baby boomers with their work experience, but I've found just the opposite. Compared to 20-somethings, we're viewed as dinosaurs even if we do have email and basic computer skills. I'd like some really specific suggestions -- like maybe temp agencies or someplace other than Wal-Mart willing to hire us.

Deborah Russell: Reston: Go to AARP's website and learn about the AARP National Employer Team. These are companies that have specifically come to AARP looking to reach out to mature, experienced workers. Companies like Adecco, Schneider Trucking, CVS, Walgreens, the IRS and the Peace Corp. are just a few that you can learn more about.

Nancy Trejos: I've also mentioned some other organizations and web sites in some of my previous answers. You might want to explore those resources as well.

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Rockville, Md.: I agree with Reston, Va. And I don't think you really addressed his/her concern. I too have decades of Information Technology experience and keep my skills current, but find that the marketplace assumes that we seasoned IT'ers are out-of-date. Most programs/organizations that help older workers with employment issues make the same assumptions and have ludicrous recommendations about "Learn to use the Internet" and "Get up to speed with Microsoft Office." Buy a clue from the clue bag --- we were among the first to use the Internet and to adopt Office. I started a new job the same week the iPhone was introduced and had my new iPhone at work. I was literally met by gasps from some arrogant and young co-workers: "- - - YOU - - - have an iPhone?" Like I still use a telephone where you ask the operator to connect you! I've noticed that the age discrimination is far, far worse from recent, young immigrants from India and that it is far, far worse for women. (The little twerps! I was proficient with some of the software tools we use literally before some of them were born.)

Deborah Russell: Without a doubt Rockville, age discrimination is still alive and well. Specifically in tight economic times, discrimination is more pervasive. AARP research has shown even that the younger the manager, the worse the perception they have of the capabilities of older workers. AARP research even shows that most boomers perceive discrimination begins at the age of 47. AARP plays a major role in fighting both age discrimination in the workplace and challenging the myths and perceptions employers have about the skills of older workers. We advocate not only for quality jobs but to ensure that workers 50+ remain working for as long as they desire.

I don't have an I-phone but I've had an I-Pod for years...working on my third one!

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Fairfax, Va.: I have heard that Social Security benefits (pay) are reduced when a retiree rejoins the workforce so that his total pay cannot be more than what he would receive from his retirement and social security payments combined. Is this true?

Deborah Russell: For information regarding your Social Security payments and how it is affected by work, go to www.aarp.org/money which answers your question.

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College Park, Md.: My retirement accounts have lost about $25K in the past month alone, and are down almost $50K from a year ago. I'm 51 (single, no kids) and had been hoping to retire at 55 or 60. Any advice on recovery strategies? I've been sitting tight -- my portfolio is well diversified -- but I have no confidence that things will improve soon.

Deborah Russell: College Park: I encourage you to go to AARP's website where there is information with regard to protecting your finances. Go to www.aarp.org/money for more information.

Nancy Trejos: You're not alone. Many of us, even if we aren't anywhere near retirement, have seen are 401(k)s dwindle because of recent market fluctuations. If you feel that you are well-diversified, then you are right to sit tight. Fear is the wrong reason to start messing with your investments. If you did not feel you were well-diversified, I would recommend that you make some adjustments, with the help of a financial planner or trusted adviser.

I can understand why you have no confidence that things will improve soon. I just wrote a couple of stories where I interviewed several economists, investment strategies and advisers about when they think investors will be able to recoup their losses and the answers ranged from between a few months to 10 years or even longer. So there's no way of telling when the stock market will recover. That said, history has shown that the market does eventually recover. Thankfully, you are not planning to retire next month. You do have some time on your side. So keep with your well-diversified portfolio, try to save money in other ways, don't overspend and hope for the best.

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Nancy Trejos: Thank you all for submitting your questions. We're sorry we couldn't get to all of them. This is obviously an important issue to a lot of people, judging by the number of questions we got. We wish we had more time to get to all of them. We hope we were able to help at least some of you. Thanks again!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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