As America Ages, Part Three: Many boomers delay retirement, take on more work

Cheri Moehling at 57 has sent out more résumés – six a week – and has responded to more job ads since being laid off in January than ever before in her working life.

The Woodstock resident, who is creeping toward an age where other baby boomers start honing retirement plans, realizes her age plays a major factor in a job search that seemingly has no end. It’s something she has accepted since the housing bubble popped and the economy receded in the late 2000s.

Moehling had worked at a Crystal Lake car company for seven years, until downsizing forced her to be laid off, she said. Moehling then found work at a construction company in Woodstock around the time of the economic recession, but a slow housing market ultimately forced the company to cut back late last year.

“All the time, I’ve worked my whole life, I never knew of being laid off or being fired,” Moehling said. “You worked until you decided to move on, but in the last 10 years, you’ve seen more of that with companies. They just can’t keep people on. This was my second time to be laid off.”

As baby boomers approach retirement age – the oldest of the generation began turning 65 in 2011 – various organizations and scholars have set out to determine the boomers’ effect on the workforce and their plans for their golden years.

“With seniors living longer and more active lives, and with more than 77 million baby boomers turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day, the United States is experiencing historic growth in the 65-plus demographic,” according to the United States of Aging Survey conducted last year. “The ultimate question is: Are we as individuals and communities ready for an aging population?”

Displaced boomers

The baby boomers might not be ready themselves.

Moehling agreed that times have changed for a baby boomer generation accustomed to job security. Her plan was to stay at the construction company long enough to receive Social Security and then join her husband, Melvin, who retired seven years ago after building custom homes at one construction company for 35 years.

Those plans have changed, as Melvin’s retirement income now is the sole source of revenue for the couple.

His hobby of running a Christmas tree farm during the winter in Woodstock has become more of a priority for the couple, who also have financial “nest eggs” to carry them through Moehling’s unemployment, she said.

The savings and planning likely means Moehling won’t have to work past retirement age, but the unexpected layoff has forced the couple to readjust their way of life.

That’s common for many boomers. The aging survey – which was created by the National Council on Aging, UnitedHealthcare and USA Today – found that many American seniors age 60 and older are on solid financial ground now, but they are less confident about the future.

About 24 percent aren’t confident their income will meet their monthly expenses over the next five to 10 years, and 23 percent aren’t confident in or don’t have a financial retirement plan, according to the survey.

That could be because in some cases, their income has shrunk. In 1990, the real median income for those 45 to 54 was $67,795 (in 2010 dollars) and peaked at $74,457 in 1999, according to a September 2012 report from the National Center for Policy Analysis. It has since fallen to $62,485, in correlation with the start of the recession.

For baby boomers, retirement is no longer a magical day on which they will stop working, get a gold watch and live a life of leisure, said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

More than 60 percent plan to work past age 65 or not retire at all, she said.

“It’s not their parents’ retirement,” Collinson said. “Baby boomers plan and expect to work longer, delay retirement and transition into retirement in a way that involves at least working part time.”

Most baby boomers, Collinson said, are delaying retirement out of necessity as they try to repair damage done to their finances by the Great Recession, she said.

“One of the most really tragic aspects of the last five years is the number of workers who were displaced due to layoffs,” Collinson said, noting that many had to dip into their retirement savings while looking for work.

A 2012 study by the Urban Institute found that while layoffs during the recession were less common among older workers, it took them longer to find work again when they were unemployed. And if they did find jobs, they did so for less money. Median monthly earnings declined 23 percent after an unemployment spell for re-employed workers ages 50 to 61, compared with 11 percent for those ages 25 to 34.

Moehling’s search for work as she nears retirement age involves finding a full-time job that better suits her personal interests.

She contemplated retraining programs, but instead opted to volunteer at Centegra Hospital – McHenry and the Senior Services Associates Inc., of McHenry County in hopes of landing a job working with seniors.

But the uncertainty over work lingers for Moehling, going on eight months of unemployment with no interviews imminent.

“We’ve tried to stay within our means,” she said. “We are comfortable, but you still want to work. I still have that urge. I just don’t want to be at home.”

As America Ages, Part Three: Retiring baby boomers could drain Social SecurityAs America ages: What the baby boomer generation means to McHenry County
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