Area's seniors staving off retirement

By |
Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

Many Washington-area seniors are eschewing retirement for more time at the office -- some by choice, and some by necessity.

The District is second only to Alaska in the percentage of those 65 and older still in the workforce, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Of the 69,738 residents in that age group, 21.5 percent are employed or searching for jobs -- up from 15.1 percent in the 2000 census.

Maryland is also near the top of the list, with 20.6 percent of those 65 and older in the workforce, up from 14.6 percent in 2000. In Virginia, 18.3 percent remain, up from 14.2 percent.

While the District sits high in the rankings, analysts have seen more seniors across the country wait longer to retire over the past two decades.

Seniors still at work
65-plus residents Total 65-plus 65-plus residents Total 65-plus
in workforce, 2011 residents, 2011 in workforce, 2000 residents, 2000
D.C. 15,017 69,738 10,559 70,088
Md. 150,836 731,759 87,514 598,004
Va. 184,591 1,010,335 112,366 790,567
Top senior workforce states by gender
Percentage of 65-plus men Percentage of 65-plus women
in workforce in workforce
1. D.C. 28.1% 1. Alaska 21.1%
Neb. (tied) 28.1% 2. D.C. 17.2%
3. S.D. 27.4% 3. Neb. 17.0%
4. Kan. 26.6% 4. Wyo. 16.6%
5. Md. 26.4% 5. N.H. 16.2%

"Not only do we have the baby boomer segment hitting this retirement zone in increasing numbers, it's combined with the move from a pension system to a 401(k) system," said John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "Many people did not save properly for retirement, and many people don't want to stop working."

The number of seniors still working in the Washington area may speak to the kind of people it attracts. Older residents can easily move to the nonprofit sector after a career with a federal agency or contractor, Challenger said.

"For people who are actively engaged in the future of the country, this is the place to be," he said. "People value being in a city that's not just business-oriented but also the country's heartbeat."

Richard Johnson, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, said the trend of seniors working longer began in the early 1990s and continued through the recession. He attributed Washington's high rate to its level of education, ranked first in the nation.

"Well-educated people tend to work longer than those with less schooling," Johnson said. "We've seen an increase at all educational levels, but it is the case that people who work past 65 are much more likely to have a college education than people who retire early."

Johnson said the trend is generally a good thing -- an expanded labor pool means more productivity -- but concerns remain over younger workers remaining unemployed and a potential labor shortage once the baby boomers retire.

He added that though an older workforce might mean slight increases in health care costs for employers, the biggest shift is in workplace design.

"There are accommodations that employers are starting to think about making," Johnson said, citing factories that now carpet their floors so that older workers can stand for longer periods of time.

For Barrington Jefferson, who retired from his D.C. Department of Parka and Recreation job at age 57, the change came after his divorce a few years later. Jefferson found himself with a sudden need to re-enter the job market.

He had stints officiating football games, driving a cab and working the night shift at a hotel -- sometimes doing all three in a 24-hour span.

"I stayed busy," Jefferson said. "It took away some of the anger and the bitterness following the divorce."

He eventually found a permanent position with Experience Works, an Arlington organization that helps train low-income seniors and match them with jobs. Now 75, he said he has no plans to retire anytime soon.

"Once I got into it, money was not the most important issue, but the people I work with were," he said. "They value me. That's what's very important when it comes to the workforce."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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Matt Connolly

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner