Boomers Working Past Retirement

Once upon a time, the usual image of retirement was one of a couple filling their days with leisurely, enjoyable activities. They went on long vacations they'd never had time for, read all the books they'd been stacking up over the years, began a new hobby or joined gardening or church groups. Other than volunteering, work just wasn't part of the picture.

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But that vision has gone the way of giant cell phones. As you'd expect from a generation that changed so many aspects of our lives, the boomers (77 million people born between 1946 and 1964) are approaching retirement in a very different way. They're working past the usual retirement age, and though going into an office everyday can keep your mind sharp, more and more boomers are working for another reason entirely: financial security.

Results of an Associated Press/LifeGoesStrong.com poll, released earlier this month, revealed some startling statistics: Seventy-three percent of boomers plan on working past retirement. That number is up from 67 percent in a poll taken by the same company about six months ago. In addition, 53 percent say they're not sure that they can live comfortably after retirement.

That's a gloomy forecast, but it might be the right one. According to the poll, 62 percent of boomers lost money in any of four areas: workplace investment plans; IRAs; non-IRA investments; and real estate.

In addition, company pensions are growing more and more infrequent; corporations, looking to improve efficiency, lay off highly paid older workers. And many of us, accustomed to easy credit-card purchases, have simply spent more than we've saved. Furthermore, the vast number of financial choices - whether to invest in mutual funds, IRAs, stocks or bonds - may also be a factor in inadequate planning. In a survey by Fidelity Investments, 38 percent of baby boomer respondents said they felt that the planning process was "overwhelming."

Working after retirement age might not be all bad, though. Research published in the "Journal Of Occupational Psychology" has shown that people who continued working, whether in a part-time or full-time job, had 17 percent fewer major health problems than those who did not work. (They also had a greater sense of improved well-being.) And that's important to boomers; in the Associated Press/LifeGoesStrong.com poll, 45 percent of respondents worried about health problems that could reduce their independence.

And now for the flip side: To get the maximum benefits from working past retirement age, you should be working in a job you like. "If you are doing something that is similar to what you were doing in your career, it's easier for you to adjust," Mo Wang, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland, said in an interview. "If you're working on something you are totally not familiar with, or if you're working on something just for the money return, then you have to readjust to the job, and for older adults it's usually pretty challenging."

In the adjustment process, positive thinking is a big help. Even if you're working as a clerk in a library or a cashier at a retailer, you can enjoy the company of co-workers and, not incidentally, learn about the business at hand. You're earning some money, and you still have the love of friends and family as well as the fun of extracurricular activities and hobbies.

Of course, there's still room for a fair amount of dissatisfaction and disbelief that retirement isn't going to be quite the way you may have envisioned it. "Forbes" columnist Robert Laura compares the awakening to a child being told there is no Santa Claus. But, he points out, "Even with only a storybook Santa, the spirit of Christmas lives on and inspires people to share and give back. So, too, will the spirit of retirement evolve."

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