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Part-Time Retirement, Part-Time Work

Though many Americans picture their golden years dotted with travel, visits from the grandkids, and early bird specials, more retirees are returning to work — if only part time.

Because the recent financial crisis has drastically reduced the value of their retirement accounts, as well as the equity in their homes, half of workers plan to remain employed after they retire, mostly in part-time jobs, according to a May 2011 survey by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

Old man thinking
Old man thinking

The 12th annual survey also found that 40 percent of workers said they now expect to retire later, with more than a third planning to work past age 70 or never retire, the study found.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS, workers 55 and older are clocking 42 percent more part-time hours than they were 10 years ago.

“It’s definitely trending up,” says Gary Steinberg of the BLS. “But you have to remember the number of people in that population is also growing.”

Eileen Felske, a 57-year-old former director of financial aid at Dominican College in Orangeburg, N.Y., says she needs to continue working to keep up with living expenses.

“I don’t know how many people, unless they are extremely affluent, can afford to retire at 55, or even 65," she says. "Given the economy today, unless you were in a profession making a quarter of a million dollars a year, not too many can say ‘I’m confident enough to stop working.’ It’s not an age issue; it’s just what we are living through.”

For Felske, who cares for her 86-year-old father, working from home as a consultant has helped her keep creditors at bay and allowed her much-needed flexibility.

“The age of computers has changed the way people work in the latter part of their careers,” she says. “It lends all the leeway in the world to those who still have to work to bring in money or pay for benefits, but still need to take care of the necessities of daily life. If I need to take my dad to a doctor’s appointment, I can.”

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Felske also credits technology with offering retirees opportunities in the fields of blogging, technical writing, and product reviews.

“Even when you hit the Social Security age, other expenses make working a necessity. Not everyone has a 401(k),” Felske says.

Another Cause for Gray Hair

Fidelity Investments estimates a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2011 will need $230,000 to pay for medical expenses throughout retirement, not including nursing-home care. This figure assumes there is no employer-provided retiree health-care coverage, and life expectancies of 17 years for men and 20 years for women.

While plenty are forced to put off full-time retirement to pay the bills and keep up with uninsured medical costs, others are choosing to work to stay active and pursue interests they didn’t have time for during their nine-to-five years.

In order to supplement her income, Felske has also decided to turn some hobbies into part-time jobs, as well. Felske says even if she did not need to work, she would still want to try to get her own event-planning and catering businesses off the ground.

“In my mind, retirement is for old people,” she says. “Plus, after working for 40 years, your identity is tied to whether or not you ‘go to work.’ ”

Thomas Marrone, 69, of New York City, agrees: “There is no correlation between 69 today and the 69 of the last generation.”

While he feels he can afford to be selective when choosing a part-time job, watching his retirement savings take a beating in the stock market kept him up at night.

In addition to financial security, Marrone says retirees are looking for ways to stay active and keep their minds engaged.

“Today’s seniors, the baby boomers, are better educated than any group of retirees in the past,” Marrone points out. “They’re not going to be satisfied sitting in a senior center playing bingo from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. It’s just not enlightening.”

Currently working as a tutor, Marrone says he enjoys helping and encouraging young people.

“I can wear a lot of hats,” says Marrone, who spent 16 years working in social services after decades in corporate America. “I’m considering work as a career counselor, but if I had to, I could just as easily work in a store.”

Marrone isn’t the only one who considers retail a viable option. Just under 20 percent of Walmart Stores' 2 million associates are 55 or older, according to JobBank.com.

Kerry Hannon, contributor to the American Association of Retired Persons' AARPwebsite, and author of “What’s Next?”, notes other feasible part-time options for seniors include teacher aide and tour guide.

Vocation, Avocation

Beth Lewis, 70, of Tarrytown, N.Y., a former early-childhood specialist, and her husband, Richard, are both part-time retirees who know first-hand the benefits of both those positions.

While Beth has enjoyed working as a guide at the 300-year-old Phillipsburg Manor, an 18th century farm located in the Historic Hudson Valley, Richard has continued to teach secondary math.

“What I’m doing at Phillipsburg is very different from what I did in my other life,” says Beth Lewis, who stumbled upon her decade-long present career when she attended a book signing. “I’ve always loved history. When they put out a call for people who wanted to work, I thought, ‘Fun. I really want to do this.’ I love it.”

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Lewis isn’t alone. Many of the other manor house guides are retirees.

“We all work part-time and it’s a wonderful group of people,” she says. “I think one of the most interesting and enjoyable things that has happened as a result is that you gain a whole new friendship group. When you tell people in the general population that you love history, they look at you cross-eyed. But this is a group of people who also has an appreciation and an interest in learning more about our history."

When she isn’t working, Lewis volunteers for a parent-child literacy group and attends classes at the Westchester Community College Collegium, a volunteer-run continuing education center for seniors.

“We’re not your typical folks sitting on a back porch,” Lewis says.

Felske notes that when you’re constantly told 80 is the new 60, and 70 is the new 50, “you don’t think of yourself as older,” so you feel compelled to do more and achieve more.

Online job sites such as SeniorJobBank.org, EmploymentSpot.comand WorkForce50.comabound and offer older workers a chance to explore part-time opportunities.

In addition to listing age-friendly employers, AARP’s website also features networking strategies and advice on making the most of second careers.

For those whose nest eggs are in need of additional feathering, deferring full-time retirement can present a chance to bring in some much-needed capital, while remaining active and engaged, which can be the silver lining to working during the golden years.

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