Most of us who have reached midlife but have not yet retired can’t count on an employer-provided pension plan to provide for us in retirement. Social Security benefits by themselves provide only a bare-bones financial skeleton to support us, so we know we’ll have to save if we hope to be at all comfortable when we stop working. It’s either that or spending our golden years as a Wal-Mart greeter or McDonalds burger-flipper. Those of us who think that won’t happen to us would do well to contemplate Tom Palome, a former vice-president for marketing at Oral-B, who at age 77 is back at work flipping burgers at a golf course grill and demonstrating products at Sam’s Club.
So, how are we doing at preparing for retirement? Not well, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released on October 14. Researchers conducted a nationwide telephone survey of 1,024 Americans age 50 or older. One in six survey participants reported having less than $1,000 in retirement savings. Only 29% indicated that they had $100,000 in their retirement accounts. Approximately equal numbers of respondents felt secure about their retirement savings and were anxious; given the amount of reported savings, those who feel secure must include some real optimists. In any event, the survey found that older Americans are delaying their retirement plans, and many acknowledge that retirement won’t entail completely leaving the workforce. According to AP reporter Matt Sedensky,
“Some 82 percent of workers 50 and older say it is at least somewhat likely they will work for pay in retirement. And 47 percent of them now expect to retire later than they previously thought — on average nearly three years beyond their estimate when they were 40. Men, racial minorities, parents of minor children, those earning less than $50,000 a year and those without health insurance were more likely to put off their plans.”
Survey respondents who were still working were asked whether they expected to still work some after they retired. 47 percent said they are very or extremely likely to do so and 35 percent said they are somewhat likely. That leaves less than 20% who are unlikely to work after retirement. The ideal retirement of the 1950s and 1960s—a time devoted entirely to leisure—has become a decidedly minority lifestyle for older adults.
If the new norm is to continue to work throughout older adulthood, is that simply an unfortunate result of financial realities, or is it good in its own right? I think of someone like John Steiginga, who I interviewed earlier for this blog. He formally retired after years of pastoral ministry, then immediately took a half-time position in which he focused on a particular aspect of ministry that is of interest to him. Is he losing out by not giving more emphasis to leisure? I would like to explore the concept of retirement, especially the notion that the good life is best obtained in our later years by leaving work and devoting our days to leisure activities. Check back on this blog for my thoughts about this topic.