Caution: retirees at work

For many of our readers, and millions of other Americans, the old retirement dream of sun-drenched leisure is ancient history. The new dream is a much more active life, combining paid work with other interests. For some it’s already a reality. How will the rest of us make it happen?

Simply retiring later is attractive to people who love their jobs. It’s also a key strategy for those who don’t have enough savings to retire earlier. But delaying retirement may not be may not be such a good idea, or even possible for many.

Among workers 58 or older, 43% “have physically demanding jobs or difficult working conditions,” according to a study discussed here. Very few of us will be able to swing a hammer all day when we’re 75. Troublingly, even higher proportions of non-white workers are in this category. This makes proposals to raise the minimum age for Social Security benefits socially troubling, while fiscally sound.

Even without hard labor, most of won’t keep doing our current jobs for other reasons: layoffs, health issues, or simply the subtle pressure to make way for the next generation that’s common in many fields and professions. Many of us want to do something else anyway. But when we go looking for suitable work, we may not find it.

A recent Washington Post article declares that “the elephant in the room is age discrimination.” Despite the fact that this has been illegal since 1967, in the workplace it’s still pretty much business as usual. And once you’re out, you have very little leverage to get back in somewhere else. As one expert points out, the law may be clear, but “so-called ‘failure to hire’ cases are notoriously hard to bring and even harder to prove.”

The result is that according to AARP, job-seekers over age 50 face an average of more than 40 weeks to find a new position. For those who are over 60 or 65, moving in a new late-career direction, or both, we can only imagine. We don’t have to because the Post provides these facts: while 80% of Americans think they’ll keep working in retirement, only 19% actually do.

Don’t let any of this affect your retirement dreams – only your plans. Make sure to start thinking about what you’ll do long before you make your move. (Years, not months.) Do more than think; actively prepare for your new life. And because life is uncertain, have a Plan B ready. Maybe even a Plan C. That’s how we look at retirement planning: a range of possible outcomes, and a mix of options to achieve them. It’s a good way to plan to all the non-financial aspects of retirement, too.

Image courtesy Paul Hayday via Flickr Creative Commons