Older Americans speak about delaying retirement
- Article by: DEBRA JENSEN-DE HART
- Associated Press
- August 19, 2013 - 12:06 AM
BELOIT, Wis. — Some people look forward to retirement in their 50s and 60s.
Many older Americans, however, are choosing to stay in the workforce either full- or part-time beyond the age of 62 when Social Security benefits kick in and beyond the age of 65 when they also become Medicare-eligible.
Their reasons vary for not retiring — some because of financial need, some because they want to continue what they love doing and for some, it's a combination of reasons.
Below are accounts from several local people about why they are still working beyond retirement age.
Bill Bolgrien is an octogenarian lawyer who was admitted to the bar in February of 1960. He's been in law practice for 53 years here in Beloit and is still working.
"I presently limit my practice to estate planning, business law and health care law," he said.
"I am a partner in the firm of Bolgrien, Koepke & Kimes. Over the past years, I have shared this partnership with five men and one woman, and presently have three active partners.
"My work schedule is flexible, but I have to be honest and say I seldom get to my office before 10 a.m."
When asked why he is still working, Bolgrien responds, "I learned years ago that I had three things to sell. First my time, second my knowledge, and third my reputation. If I see, or one of my partners see, that my knowledge has declined because of my age, and I have not properly served a client, I'm out of here before my reputation becomes worthless.
"Until then, I enjoy my profession, working with young people and hopefully being of assistance to those who ask for my service and/or advice."
There are advantages and disadvantages to being an older worker.
"The advantage of being an older lawyer is that I don't have to wear a shirt, tie and suit to work — unless I have a scheduled court appearance," Bolgrien said. "Another is that I have time to pursue my hobby of researching and writing about our Beloit history, and the Civil War.
"The disadvantage of being an older lawyer is the requirement of making time to keep up on the law as it constantly changes, and learning and maintaining knowledge and skills on computers. When I started practice we had an office phone, typewriter, carbon paper, and copy machine. And yes, another disadvantage is being asked by old clients and people in general, 'Are you still working'?"
When Madge Lamia, 78, and her late husband, Vince Lamia, were in their 50s, they retired. He had been a meat cutter at Woodman's for 30 years by then and she also had worked at the store for about 17 years. They worked in Beloit and in the Madison store when it first opened. They thought they'd be fine, financially, with a pension and later Social Security and Medicare coverage.
Both loved to fish and so they moved to Minoqua for 10 years and life was good.
Then Vince became ill and the couple moved back to Beloit and bought a condominium. He died in 2006 shortly after. They had been married for 51 years.
Upon his death, as happens when one spouse dies, his widow had to choose between receiving her late husband's Social Security benefits or hers.
"When your spouse dies, you lose money, but you still have the same bills," she said.
She also said she had spent more of her discretionary funds than she should have.
At that point, "I thought, 'I really need a job.' "
She was 74 years old.
She applied at Elder-Beerman in Beloit in 2009 and began as a store clerk working part-time. That grew into regular part-time work of 20 hours per week with some benefits, she said.
While she needs the income, Lamia also says she enjoys her work and that there are intrinsic benefits to working at an older age.
"I think working keeps you in the know with people and you get a chance to laugh," she said.
Her advice to older people who may be contemplating working: "If you can do it, do it. You've got everything to gain and nothing to lose."
As for older employees at Elder-Beerman, Store Manager Sharon Carr says besides Lamia, there are three more employees over the age of 80 and one is near 90.
One advantage of having older people as store employees is that they get to work with high school students who may have just obtained their first jobs, Carr said. The older workers can share their experiences and their work ethic.
"The kids learn from them," she said.
As far as disadvantages, Carr says everyone has negatives and positives.
The key is: "You have to find out what every person is good at and find out their strengths," she said.
David Konowal, 63, started out his working career as a cabinet maker in New York state. He later taught industrial arts at the high school level and then decided to go into business for himself. A self-employed carpenter and restoration professional, he is semi-retired.
"At 62, just about everyone I know in the trades retires," Konowal said, noting the physical strain the work takes on a person.
"I'd rather do smaller jobs now and replacement work," he said.
Konowal pays for his own insurance coverage but does receive Social Security benefits monthly.
"It's like having a birthday every month," he says jokingly.
He keeps working both because he needs to supplement his income and because he enjoys it, he said.
"I don't want to just quit. I like to get up and go — it never bothers me to work. Too many quit, retire and then have health problems. I want to remain active as long as I can in my field," he said.
"I've always been proud of the fact I've been able to stand on my own two feet and made my own way," he said of his independence.
When he's not working, he's engaged in a new hobby which also has become a money maker for him.
He creates garden structures such as flat and three-dimensional trellises and benches and markets them at the Farmers Market in Beloit on Saturdays.
Konowal also is heavily involved as a volunteer at the Beckman Mill and Welty Environmental Center.
Viola Thostensen, 81, "is the oldest waitress in Beloit," said her boss, Diana Updike, owner of D's Snack Shop.
Thostensen started waitressing at the restaurant 28 years ago, she said.
"I kind of fell into the job — my niece worked here," she said of nearly three decades ago when she started.
Back then the job was more of a full-time endeavor.
Presently, Thostensen just works on Saturdays from 5:30 a.m. until about 12:45 p.m. when the place closes.
She says she doesn't need to work for financial reasons, but that she wants to work.
"I don't need the income now, but once I started it I just enjoyed it so much," she said.
Even after a recent eye surgery — which is currently preventing her from driving the 14 or so miles into town from her rural Brodhead home to work — she is determined to be there every week.
On this day, a son drove her in to work, she said.
Customers also have offered.
"They take good care of me," she says with a laugh.
And after all these years, what has she learned about waitressing?
"It's very physical and you get to know the customers. I might not know all their names, but I know faces and what they want to eat. We are creatures of habit," she said.
When asked what the key is to being a good waitress, she said: "You have to be personable and friendly. Sometimes you have to use a little psychology — be extra polite and perhaps ask a customer a question."
People like to be acknowledged when they come in to a place.
Does she have a time limit for when she will hang up her apron?
"When the good Lord tells me I can't do it anymore," she said.
Besides, "If I quit, she says I have to give her 10 years notice," she says jokingly of her boss.
Perhaps one of the most assertive local octogenarians still in the workforce is Marilyn Piper.
At 81, she works as many hours as she can get, she says.
Widowed while still in her 50s, she's been on her own for decades.
While she does collect Social Security, she says her allotment is not enough to live on and there was no pension received when her husband died at the age of 61.
Piper has worked nearly all of her adult life, with just time off to have three children.
She's worked as an accountant and at many other jobs over the years. Since 1988 or 1989, she also has done food demonstration work. At one time, she had a 50-mile radius for the demonstrations.
Presently, she continues her work as a food demonstrator — the kind you see in grocery stores.
"I'm out as often as I can get a job," she said.
Her car has more than 150,000 miles on it.
Piper says she takes care of herself and she's determined to work as long as possible.
She also says she doesn't fit the stereotype of older people sitting in rocking chairs, knitting or doing as little as possible.
She also enjoys teaching jewelry making at Grinnell Hall Senior Center once a month and does a jewelry repair session once a month.
Piper says she developed her philosophy of life at the age of 30.
It is: "You are never going to get old because you know what comes after old and you can't come back."
So, just how long will she keep working?
Her answer is spunky, much like her colorful character.
"Until I die."
According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Workforce Development for the year 2012, there were 7,245,000 people 65 years old and older still in the workforce.
Categorized by industry, about half of the older workers, or 3,074,000, were employed in management, professional and related jobs.
Broken down further, significant numbers of people 65 and older worked in these areas in 2012:
— Education and health services: 1,684,000
— Wholesale and retail trade: 1,043,000 with the bulk in retail.
— Professional and business services: 947,000
— Financial activities: 622,000
— Manufacturing: 542,000
— Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting: 328,000
— Construction: 318,000
— Public administration: 267,000
Working in department stores, grocery stores, selling real estate or insurance, working as an attorney, teacher, clergy, teacher, dentist, physician, nurse, home health aide, janitor, cook, cashier, child care worker, bookkeeper, auditor, receptionist and accountant all appeared to be popular among older working Americans in 2012.
In Wisconsin, the total share of the Wisconsin labor force of people 55 and older has steadily increased since the year 2000. In 2000, the percent was 12.9; by 2005, it was 15.3 percent; by 2010, 20.4 percent and in 2012, the percent increased to 22.6. (Source US Bureau of Labor Statistics)
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by Beloit Daily News.
© 2013 Star Tribune