Older Americans alter attitude on work, retirement

By Jimmy Sailors

The Dothan Eagle

Published: Saturday, Nov. 9 2013 8:48 p.m. MST

Norris Danzey helps 11-year-old Tynisha Shazel with her homework at the Hawk Houston Boys and Girls Club in Dothan, Ala., on Oct. 29, 2013. Norris Danzey served 30 years in the Navy before he retired as a lieutenant commander in 2001, but he wasn’t ready to quit working.

Danny Tindell, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

DOTHAN, Ala. — Norris Danzey served 30 years in the Navy before he retired as a lieutenant commander in 2001, but he wasn't ready to quit working.

During the years he spent with young recruits, he saw the problems some had when they came into the military.

"I felt like if I could do something about those problems while they're young, then by the time they get to going in the military or whatever, maybe they're a little more disciplined, a little more able to make a good choice as to what they want to do in their lives," Danzey said.

In 2006 he graduated from the child development program at Wallace Community College. Four years later he graduated from Troy University-Dothan with a bachelor's degree in elementary education.

As the program coordinator at Boys and Girls Clubs of Hawk-Houston, Danzey helps the kids and tracks their progress.

"If they're doing good, that lets you know what you're doing here is working," Danzey said.

Danzey has a job he finds important and fulfilling, but for many Americans working longer isn't just an option. It's a necessity.

A nationwide Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey of 1,024 adults ages 50 and over conducted in August and September shows a shift in attitudes about work, aging and retirement.

By 2020 about 25 percent of the U.S. workforce will be composed of workers ages 55 and over, up from 19 percent in 2010. It is a segment of the population that is not only growing rapidly in numbers but is also substantially healthier than previous generations.

"Retirement is not only coming later in life, it no longer represents a complete exit from the workforce," said Trevor Tompson, director of the AP-NORC Center. "The data in this survey reveal s strikingly different views of retirement among older workers today than those held by the prior generation."

Robert Crowder, executive director of the Southern Alabama Regional Council on Aging, said the realities of today's economics make working longer mandatory in a lot of cases.

"One of the biggest factors is people are living longer," he said. "The fastest growing segment of our senior population is those people that are over 85."

Having enough income to survive those later years is the problem. Uncertainty about health and living costs and what government programs will provide have people questioning how much they need to have saved.

For people making minimum wage or working in nominal jobs, Crowder said it's hard to save much of anything.

"They're working their lives, living day to day," he said.

When unexpected things happen that increase their expenses or cut their income, they often aren't prepared.

The need for health insurance grows more important as they get older, when the possibility of a heart attack, stroke, catastrophic illness or injury increases.

"People are living longer, so naturally the probability of them having one of those things happen to them is a whole lot greater," Crowder said. "It's just a matter of when."

The types of jobs have changed. Crowder said his grandparents were farmers in what was then a farming community.

"When I was a kid there was corn and cotton grown inside the (Ross Clark) Circle, a lot of it," he said.

What used to be agrarian has become more urban. Retail and office workers make up a bigger portion of the workforce.

Factories that become more automated require fewer employees. Many locally-owned businesses have been replaced by regional, national and international companies. Furloughs and layoffs are more commonplace, and people who spend years working in one industry have seen their jobs disappear.

Crowder said family dynamics have changed. People used to have more kids, and they usually didn't move far from where their parents lived.

"When people got older, they had a natural support system," he said.

Now, family members are fewer and more scattered. Even worse, many older Americans are taking on extra burdens. In some cases, grandparents who were just getting by in life find themselves taking on the role of caretaker.

"You've got a tremendous number of people across this country who are elderly that are raising their grandkids," Crowder said. "They're the sole provider for them."

Planning for life's challenges rarely follows a straight path. Economic downturns happen, lives change, and the chain of events people hoped would carry them into a comfortable retirement doesn't always play out.

"What people had anticipated, what people had worked toward suddenly changed, and that has caused all sorts of ripples in our business," said Dr. Bill Sellers, associate dean of career and technical education at Wallace Community College.

The college works to cater its curriculum to the local job market.

"As we discover needs in the community, we build programs based on those needs," said Vincent Vincent, the coordinator of noncredit training at WCC. "We're seeing lots of people 50-plus wanting to come back to school, either out of necessity or out of just wanting to contribute to society still."

Phillip Kitchens, a student in the associate degree nursing program at WCC, is one of them.

"When I was in high school, I worked in a nursing home as an orderly," Kitchens said. "I really enjoyed my job, and that was what I wanted to do."

He thought he'd have the opportunity to go into some type of medical field when he went into the military, "but the Air Force had different plans for me, and they put me in law enforcement."

Once he got into law enforcement, he liked it. He was a deputy sheriff in Houston County for a while, then worked 15 years for Movie Gallery until its corporate office moved to Oregon.

He and his wife opened Cold Stone Creamery, near Carmike Cinemas. Owning a business means you have to come up with your own insurance plan.

"My premiums have doubled," he said. "It's like you're at the point (where) I don't know if I can afford to pay for insurance like that."

When he saw an opportunity to pursue a nursing degree, he took it. He's looking for a career that will provide benefits and carry him into his late 60s, maybe even his 70s.

"When I first started school, it was a little intimidating because I was thinking I'm going to be in there with all of these kids and I'm going to be the oldest guy in the room, and that wasn't the case," he said.

Attitudes about work and retirement have changed in the last few years. Administrators at WCC have noticed the signs.

Sellers said some workers who planned to retire at a certain age are concerned about leaving when they're on solid ground with a good job. "They are spending many more years in the workforce than they thought they would initially," he said.

Vincent said a couple of months after some people retire they realize "they're bored out of their mind and want to go back."

Michael Mulgrew has been district manager at Kelly Services in Dothan for only a few weeks, but has already noticed a lot of teachers coming out of retirement to pick up extra work as substitute teachers.

The Dothan City School Board voted in February to outsource its substitute teaching jobs to Kelly Services. The move freed the school system from having to provide health insurance to some who may be entitled to it under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

"Most of the ones that come in here, they're looking for the most part for a little extra money, and some of them it's just the enjoyment of what they used to do," Mulgrew said.

At the prior company he worked with in the Atlanta area, Mulgrew saw nurses coming out of retirement to fill jobs.

The Plus 50 Career Fair Series, held at WCC in four sessions during October, offered people 50 and older the chance to learn more about training for a new career.

When businesses close or have layoffs the workers are displaced, often when they are too young or unprepared for retirement. Some decide to start a new career in a field that holds more potential for longevity and higher pay.

Sellers said businesses and industries were coming to WCC a few years back for help in training people to fill jobs. The companies were expecting an exodus of older workers, but it didn't happen because the employees decided to hold on to their jobs a bit longer.

It's a trend that's likely to continue.

Information from: The Dothan Eagle, http://www.dothaneagle.com

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