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Many working longer, sometimes taking on multiple jobs

Many seniors still toiling into those Golden Years

Every Monday morning, Dimple Mooney heads to Seminary Town Hall, where she keeps the books. On Tuesday and Wednesday, she heads to the Covington County Courthouse, where she works as an election commissioner. She juggles work duties with home responsibilities, caring for her husband, a retired attorney who is legally blind and deaf.

At 78, Mooney officially retired a dozen years ago, but continues working for some spending money, and more importantly, healthcare benefits.

“I thought by now I’d be traveling the world, but it takes all this just to keep up,” she said, with a laugh. “I don’t mind it, really. I enjoy my co-workers and being with other people. As long as I’m healthy, I’ll keep doing it.”

Bet McClendon, 75, of Bogalusa, La., works part time as a private nurse, despite having broken her hip last year. When an elderly patient died recently, McClendon was out of work only a few days before she was called for another job, caring for a 91-year old nurse she worked with years ago.

“Frankly, I need the money, and she’s alone like me,” said McClendon, whose husband died several years ago after a lengthy illness. “I can’t believe I’m 75 and still working, but I enjoy it. I’m just glad I can remain independent and help others.”

Their stories are not unusual. As people live longer and remain healthy, more seniors are working part time, and some even full time, to make ends meet.

“A gentleman from Wyoming, who moved here with his wife a year and a half ago, has three part-time jobs, not because he has to, but because he wants to keep busy and have a little supplemental income,” said Natchez Retiree Partnership director Roy Winkworth, a retired personnel manager. “A lot of retirees work on a part-time basis, including me. I go to the office a couple of times a day to check mail and messages. Otherwise, people call me at home.”

Diana O’Toole, TMP, program manager of Hometown Mississippi Retirement, the state’s official retiree attraction program, said retired professionals are hot commodities for local employers.

“A week after an education superintendent from Nebraska retired and moved to Oxford, he was tapped to get involved in the city’s educational system,” she said.

Christy Knapp, assistant executive director and retiree attraction program director of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, said the home of Ole Miss has a strong part-time job market.

“Students fill many of those jobs, but employers would like to hire more mature help,” she said.

In February, Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, teamed with AARP, the leading membership organization for the 50-plus population with more than 35 million members, to hire approximately 35,000 new associates in 2004 for its existing stores and 175 new locations opening this year. Home Depot hopes to attract skilled associates such as plumbers, electricians, landscapers, sales associates and customer service representatives. The company offers medical and dental insurance, tuition reimbursement, a discounted stock purchase plan and other benefits to part- and full-time associates.

Before taking that part-time job, retirees must first calculate earnings against Social Security income to determine how much money they can make without a penalty. If a retiree is under full retirement age for the entire year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) deducts $1 from benefit payments for every $2 earned above the annual limit. For 2004, that limit is $11,640.

“Hopefully, that limitation will change,” said O’Toole.

In the year full retirement age is reached, the SSA deducts $1 in benefits for every $3 earned above a different limit, but only counts earnings before the month that full retirement age is reached. For example, if full retirement age is reached in 2004, the limit on earnings for the months preceding that milestone is $31,080.

“I never made enough money to worry about all that,” said Winkworth with a laugh.

Beginning the month full retirement age is reached, the SSA places no limitations on benefit payments.

“By then, your wages will have no effect on your Social Security check,” said Kim Anderson, spokesperson for the SSA office in Atlanta.

The 1983 Amendments phased in a gradual increase in the age at which seniors reach full retirement, from 65 to 67 over a 22-year period, with an 11-year hiatus at which the retirement age remains at 66. (For more information, visit www.ssa.gov.)

According to the AARP, one in every 10 people over the age of 65 lives below the poverty level. The National Council on the Aging reports that in 2001, 12.8% of older Americans made up 3% of the workforce. In 2000, the reported median income for seniors 65 and older was $13,769, with an average of $19,168 in earnings for men and $10,899 for women. One-third of the workers make less than $10,000; nearly one-fourth reported earnings of $25,000 or more.

Despite the appeal of hiring experienced workers, mature Americans face barriers in making career transitions, such as not feeling welcome in the workplace, feeling too old to start a new career and believing they know more than the younger person interviewing them. Employers are sometimes reluctant to hire older workers because they may prefer not to hire anyone over 60, believe an older applicant is overqualified, and are concerned that the worker may retire soon.

Authorized under the Older Americans Act of 1965, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and administered by the Employment and Training Administration, the AARP foundation is one of 10 national sponsors of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), a work-training program that provides subsidized part-time temporary assignments and placement assistance to low-income people age 55 and older, with a goal of 20% placement into jobs in the nonprofit or private sectors. For the 2000-01 grant year, SCSEP exceeded DOL’s goal of placing 12,352 enrollees in unsubsidized employment. The program secured unsubsidized jobs for 22,851 older Americans nationwide.

“Unfortunately, Mississippi is not one of the 22 organizations contracted for the program, because most of those organizations have held contracts with the Labor Department since before our state office was established,” said Mattie Stevens, Mississippi AARP director.

Walter Howell, AARP associate state director for advocacy, said, “The phenomena we’re facing now is that people are extending their employment, period.”

“They’re retiring later primarily because of not having sufficient retirement benefits,” he said. “There are some exceptions, such as people not ready to go home, but as they approach 65, they’re realizing they don’t have the foundation for an acceptable retirement.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the major sources of income for the 65-plus population were derived from Social Security (38%), earnings (21%), income from assets (20%) and public/private pensions (19%).

“AARP has always promoted that, if possible, there are four pillars of retirement people should be able to rely on: a good healthcare program, Social Security, employment pension or retirement fund and investments,” said Howell. “Probably more than 30% of Social Security beneficiaries have no other income, an indication that a lot of Americans are not preparing themselves for retirement. We don’t have a breakdown by state, but I would imagine that Mississippi’s rate is higher.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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