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Is Working in Retirement a Myth?

There’s been a lot of talk about “working in retirement.” About how baby boomers don’t want to quit their jobs at 65 to chill on the beach or play leisurely rounds of golf.  Instead, they want to keep right on working well into their 70s or even 80s, or they hope to move into and out of the workforce at will. But is that really feasible?


A May 2011 study by the AARP Public Policy Institute suggests that it might not be quite as easy as many retirees hope.  When unemployed people over 55 look for work, it takes them longer to find a job than almost any other age group.  In April, the average duration of unemployment for people over 55 jumped to a record 53.6 weeks in April, up from 51.5 weeks just a month earlier — and more than double what it was in 2007 (20.2 weeks). It’s also well above what it is for people under 55, who are only unemployed for an average of 39.4 weeks. For the older workers who aren’t currently working, re-entering the workforce might be harder and take longer than they anticipated.

On the other hand, for those who plan to keep on working, the data look more promising. The unemployment rate for people over 55 is significantly lower than the national average, and in April, held steady at 6.5%, while the national average jumped slightly to 9%.  Whether because they want to or because they have to, older Americans who already have jobs are keeping them.

Historically, both of these trends have been true: unemployed older workers tend to remain without jobs for longer than their younger counterparts, while their overall unemployment tends to be lower, says Sara Rix, a senior strategic policy advisor for the AARP Public Policy Institute and the author of the study. The reasons behind the record-high long-term unemployment include age discrimination and employers’ concerns about the costliness of older workers; the reasons for their lower overall unemployment include the fact that employers have traditionally valued the expertise of more experienced workers, who are likely older, and have thus kept workers with those qualifications for as long as they can, she says.

So what does it all mean for people who want to work in retirement?  “If you want to work in retirement, it may be best not to retire,” Rix says. “Moving into and out of the workforce can be difficult for older workers, especially when jobs are scarce.” Of course, for those who have specialized skills or knowledge that they could parlay into, say, a consulting or teaching gig, this might be easier, but for less skilled workers, it’s going to be more difficult, she says. Check out some of the best part-time jobs for retirees here.

Readers, what do you think? If you’re working in retirement, how difficult was it for you to land a job? If you plan on working in retirement, how concerned are you about finding a job?


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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.