April 30, 2019
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2035, for the first time in American history, there will be more adults age 65 and older than children. By 2060, nearly twenty-five percent of Americans will be age 65 and above. At the same point, the number of people age 85 and older will triple. What will they all be doing in those long retirement years?
For many who have not saved enough to simply retire and not work at all, they find jobs. The stereotypical image of an elder serving fast food will be extended by seeing elders in many other kinds of work. For some of these folks over 65, long stretches without structure lead to isolation, boredom and even to depression. Retirees may want the double benefit of bringing in money while finding ways to be with others.
My 30-something daughter is a regular Uber user who likes to converse with her drivers in San Francisco. She reports that three of her drivers in the past two weeks were over age 65. One was age 80. He told her that he had retired from a union job at age 65. His wife had passed away and he got withdrawn and bored, having no sense of purpose. He worked part-time as a warehouse floor worker and cashier. He liked the walking and being around people. He worked another few days a week driving which he enjoyed because it kept him sharp, using the app, navigating around the city, keeping track of the best ways to get places, and most importantly, he liked chatting with his passengers.
Your next rideshare driver?
Another driver she met was a musician, age 70. He said he liked driving because he enjoyed hearing people’s stories and he like helping get them where they needed to go. A third older driver told her she liked challenging herself with the assignments. She spoke about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was widowed and needed the income. She commented that driving for both Uber and Lyft kept her from being homeless.
Do these older workers give us a preview of what our future society will look like? It seems likely. Our numbers tell the story. We are not producing enough younger workers to fill the jobs that exist now and jobs that will continue to grow in the future. Longevity creates a pool of older workers available either part-time or full-time, not necessarily expecting a benefits package and having no lofty career aspirations. They just want the stimulation, structure, and expectations of relating to others that come with having a job. Our entire society certainly can benefit from this win-win.
Will our aging parents be among the workforce of elders? Perhaps. It depends on whether they see themselves as needing to work for any reason. Sometimes money is not the motivator. Rather, it is to prevent social isolation and to feel useful in some way. For others, like the older woman who said driving prevented homelessness, income is the major motivator. For those who are too proud to depend entirely on younger family members to support them, and for those whose families are unable to provide support, work offers a sense of personal accomplishment.
All of the workers described here were physically and mentally capable of doing work. Not all retirees fit into that category. When one’s financial situation is comfortable and there is no need to create income, volunteer work can meet the same need for connections with others that a part-time paid job can do. There is a greater variety of volunteer opportunities in a broad range of fields than paying jobs in those same fields. For example, an art lover can be a volunteer docent at a local museum much more readily rather than trying to find paid work as an artist. Networks like volunteermatch.com help interested people find connections to opportunities in their communities, nationwide. With a long life in retirement, there are risks of becoming too cut off from others and boredom with nothing to do outside one’s home. Some report that playing golf and traveling are not enough to fill their days. Considering whether to find paid or volunteer work in retirement looks like an important part of successful retirement planning. Helping your aging parent find and maintain purpose can work for both of you.