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The anti-retirement plan: Working 9-to-5 past 65

WASHINGTON, DC: Paul Hyman is a lawyer in Washington, D.C. who still works full time at age 74. He said that not only does he still enjoy working but he fears boredom if he were to retire. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Paul Hyman doesn’t much care for golf or beach resorts. He doesn’t have a boat and isn’t any good at painting.

Hyman, 74, isn’t into many of the things the friends his age say they like doing in retirement. The things that are important to him – social connections, friends, new challenges – he gets at work. So the partner at Hyman, Phelps & McNamara, a food and drug law firm based in Washington, says he isn’t retiring, at least not for now.

“Most of my contemporaries in law school, or a lot of them, have retired,” says Hyman, who helped launch the firm nearly 35 years ago. “A lot of them were sort of happy to stop doing what they were doing. I kind of like what I’m doing.”

Hyman is among a growing group of people working full time beyond age 65, generally considered full retirement age. As of September, 60 percent of workers age 65 and older had full-time jobs, up from about 55 percent in September of 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over that time, the share of workers with part-time jobs fell to 40 percent from about 45 percent.

Economists say it’s only natural that people are working longer because they’re living longer. Today, one in four people who reach age 65 will live past 90, according to the Social Security Administration. One in 10 will live past 95. With such longevity, financial advisers say, people need to be more creative about finding new income in retirement – which more often makes a job a regular part of the plan.

“The old idea of retirement of moving somewhere sunny and playing a lot of golf, that’s a 50-year-old idea,” says Andy Sieg, head of Global Wealth & Retirement Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which is releasing a series of reports on how the views of retirement are changing. “People are screaming out for a new proposition. They want to stay engaged and be in the workplace.”

Forty-seven percent of today’s retirees say they have either worked or plan to work in retirement, according to a survey by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, a research group. And people aren’t just staying at their jobs for the money, the study found. Sixty-two percent of retirees said their top reason for working in retirement was to stay mentally active, double the 31 percent who said they worked mostly for the money.

Not that the money isn’t a strong motivator. A survey released by the Federal Reserve in August found that 31 percent of Americans have no money saved for retirement and are not receiving a pension. That included 19 percent of people ages 55 to 64. How did they plan to make up for that shortfall? About 25 percent of those surveyed said they would work as long as possible.

Today’s workers also have greater financial incentives to keep working than previous generations did, says Richard Johnson, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. Fewer workers are earning pensions. And working longer can help people sock away more savings – which more people are relying on for retirement income. Those who delay collecting Social Security see their annual benefits grow by 8 percent for every year beyond their full retirement age, until they reach 70.

Paul Brown, a 67-year-old security guard in Baltimore, says that because he’s in good health, he plans to keep working and to put off Social Security until 70. The money he makes is enough to cover his food, housing and transportation. And Brown, who worked for nearly three decades as a painter for a federal agency before transitioning to security, says the bigger Social Security benefit will be a nice supplement to the income he is expecting from his pension.

He also likes the daily routine. While many of the retired people who live with him in the senior home spend a lot of time indoors, he likes walking 15 minutes to work in the afternoons to a nearby building, where he keeps watch at night with another guard. “When I was a kid, I thought I would grow up and retire and play all day again,” he said. “But it doesn’t work that way.”

Even though he works 40 hours a week, he says, he still has plenty of time to see his cousins, go to church and volunteer at a local food bank. Retirement, he expects, will involve more of the same, with more time free for volunteering.

Another factor making it easier to work longer: the rise in education. People with office jobs or other positions that aren’t physically demanding can work longer than people in blue-collar jobs that are harder to keep up with age. Nearly 32 percent of people 25 and older had completed at least four years of college in 2013, up from about 18 percent in 1983, according to Census Bureau data. In 1940, just under 5 percent of people 25 and older had completed that much schooling.

Job flexibility helps. John Lowe, an energy law professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law in Dallas, says his flexible schedule is one of the main reasons he works full time at 73. Between summer breaks and winter holidays, he says he can teach abroad and take extended trips with his family.

The job also allows for longer breaks. On sabbatical for the fall semester, Lowe first spent a few months over the summer in Maine, where he spent afternoons sailing on his 36-foot boat. He is now in Thailand teaching a short course in petroleum law. When that’s over, he’ll travel with his wife and daughter.

In the spring, Lowe will return to his full-time job on campus, where he will teach two courses and guide students conducting research projects. Even with the full course load, he can sneak away early some afternoons for the occasional round of golf. “It’s not a hard job,” he says. “The culture of university is such that elderly people are respected and given a lot of support – and it’s fun.”

Of course, some people who intend to keep working are forced to retire early when their health changes. According to another Merrill Lynch and Age Wave survey, 86 percent of people over 65 say they have chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and arthritis. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they had to retire early because of a health reason.

For workers still in good health, especially those who like their work and are in well-paying jobs, there is little reason to stop. “There’s a big opportunity cost to retiring,” says Sara Rix, an analyst with the AARP Public Policy Institute who studies labor trends for older workers. “If they retire they lose a lot of money.”

Hyman, who started his law career with the Food and Drug Administration, is one of two founding partners still at the firm. (The other, who fellow partners used to call “the kid” because he is several years younger, is in his 60s.) One passed away, and another retired to Florida, where he takes pictures of birds and plays golf.

Hyman says he normally gets to the office about 9:30 a.m. and leaves most days by 7 p.m. While he doesn’t spend his days in court anymore, he still talks frequently with clients, consulting them and other lawyers at the firm about the language that should be used on ads and product labels – a part of the job he really enjoys.

Between the money he has saved in his 401(k) and other outside investments that have done well, Hyman says he could retire today if he needed to. Retiring will lead to a pay cut, but because his house and cars are paid off, he thinks he’ll be able to cover his expenses just fine. In the meantime, he’ll keep saving.

When Hyman and his fellow partners entered their 50s, they instituted a mandatory retirement policy under which the firm’s lawyers over the age of 70 would need to be approved each year by the board. Hyman has been cleared three times without issue. “Now, it won’t last forever,” he said one recent afternoon while sitting in his corner office. “Something will happen.”

“One of two things – one will be physical and the other will be mental,” he says, adding that an emotional change may make him feel ready for something new. “Something may set me off.”

For now, that day seems far away. Maybe it’s in his genes, he says. After all, his father, who was on a tax appeals board in Atlantic City, didn’t retire until he was 84.

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