Working for life

The headline grabbed my attention: “The Secret to a Successful Retirement: Don’t Retire.” It adorned an article on The Street about a study by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research: “The best financial advice for the growing number of Baby Boomers eagerly approaching retirement is: ‘Don’t.'”

The study found that a combination of depressed home prices, poor stock market returns, inadequate savings and diminishing pensions means that many people approaching retirement have one alternative: to work longer.

That wasn’t what I was expecting to read. From the headline I thought the article would take a contrarian point of view: that some people find fulfillment in work and would miss that in retirement, along with other benefits like socialization and lottery pools. That busy people seem happier than lazy ones, or just don’t have as much time to complain. That spending more time on Facebook or hugging the TV remote doesn’t lead to a spiritual awakening.

Look at Paul McCartney. He just turned 70 and he’s still performing.

If we believe what people say they’ll do–a big if–most Americans plan to work past age 65–some 74 percent, according to a study released in May by economists at Wells Fargo Securities LLC. Most seem worried that the Great Recession has blown a hole in savings and retirement plans, but I think the reasons for hanging on run deeper.

Work is as much about engagement as it is about money. Yes we need to pay the mortgage but we also need to stay sharp and work helps us to apply that focus throughout our lives, on and off the job. It’s good discipline.

So the next time someone asks when you’re going to retire say “never.” They’ll think you need the money. You’ll know the real payoff.

Jeff Widmer

Boomers continue march to early retirement

Despite protests that they can never afford to retire, a new survey shows that baby boomers are still leaving the workforce before the magic age of 65. The trend not only contradicts the conventional wisdom spouted by business and financial journalists but may create problems for a federal government already struggling to pay its bills.

In a 2011 survey of 1,012 respondents born in 1946, the MetLife Mature Market Institute found that:

  • Almost half (45%) of 65-year-old boomers are now fully retired, up from 19% in 2008.
  • The majority of boomers (63%) have started receiving Social Security benefits.
  • Half of those retirees started collecting before they had originally planned, while only 5% retired later than originally planned.
  • Almost 4 in 10 respondents (37%) who retired earlier than they had planned cite health-related reasons for doing so.
  • Those who retired later than they had planned mention needing a salary to pay for day-to-day expenses (27%) and a desire to stay active (13%) as the reasons.
  • Six in 10 Boomers are at least somewhat confident in the ability of Social Security to provide adequate benefits for their lifetime.

The findings run counter to the popular belief that most boomers will work longer to make up ground lost to the Great Recession. They aren’t, and that has implication not only for them but for those who craft public policy.

— Jeff Widmer