More Americans 75 and Older Keep Working

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Sixty-five is the normal retirement age, but many Americans are working much later in life, and it's not just because they need the money.

The number of workers who are 75 and older has skyrocketed by 76.7 percent in the past two decades, according to research by the AARP Public Policy Institute. "We are living longer, healthier lives," says Kerry Hannon, author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+. "And the types of work that people do is not as labor intensive as it was in our parents' generation."

There are a number of reasons why Americans workers may decide to put off retirement. Some may just love their jobs; others may need more money. But even those who have socked away plenty of cash are often terrified about rising medical bills and want to keep earning, Hannon says.

While the 75-plus group of workers has jumped, it's still a small percentage of the American labor force. It represented 7.6 percent last year, up from 4.3 percent in 1990.

But there might be more 75-plus workers if it were easier for them to keep their jobs. "I really love my work, and I feel quite useful," says Judge John J. Driscoll, a juvenile court judge in Westmoreland County, Pa. But because he turned 70 last year, he now faces mandatory retirement.

Instead of quietly retiring in January, Driscoll joined five other Pennsylvania judges in a lawsuit seeking to have the right to continue working past age 70. The case, filed in November, claims that Pennsylvania's mandatory retirement provision discriminates against people on the basis of age.

It's hard to know how many older workers are also forced to retire. But there is a growing number of older Americans who are not retired and are in search of a job. The number of unemployed Americans age 75 and older increased from 11,000 in 1990 to 75,000 in 2011, according to the AARP.

Some might have lost their jobs during the recession and haven't been able to find another. "The longer you have been out of the labor force, the less likely you are to come back in," says Sara Rix, senior strategic policy adviser at the AARP Public Policy Institute. "There is the question about skills, whether you have what employers want because technology has kept changing while you've been out of work."

Americans who are 75 and older tend to have certain types of jobs. For example, 25 percent have professional occupations, such as doctors and lawyers, while another 25 percent have jobs in retail trades, Rix says.

Older Americans in search of jobs should consider growing fields, such as health, education and nonprofit organizations, Hannon says. "All kinds of small businesses need people with expertise," she says. "Then you can have a part-time gig with flexible schedules."