The notion of retirement, as we know it, is changing-some might even say disappearing.
“Retiring at age 65 is becoming as much of an anachronism as getting a gold watch and a traditional defined pension,” wrote Jane Bennett Clark and Sandra block recently in Kiplingers Personal Finance magazine. Such a rethinking suggests that traditional coverage of retirement issues also is due for an overhaul, as the narrower view of a decade or more ago becomes outdated in the current struggling economy. While our traditional images of retirement-rocking on the porch, lounging by a clubhouse pool-may never have been the literal truth, most people viewed “retirement” as a firm delineation at a predictable age: leaving the work force for a new stage of life that had been planned for and funded.
Today, however, in many cases that scenario has slipped out of reach because of the drastic economic downshift. Americans now are working longer, often far past the age of 65 and many who are out of work at the age are still looking for jobs. In fact, according to a recent study by Wells Fargo, fewer than one in three middle-class Americans ages 4-59 has a written retirement plan. One third also said they planned to stay on the job until 80, due to a lack of means to retire. Stunningly, more than a third said they have no plans to retire-ever. So while columns and articles on retirement often have focused on the over-50 set and topical notions of where to retire or what leisure activities to pursue-in addition to money management and planning-today’s pre-retirement set may be focused on a much wider range of concerns that also include their children, grandchildren and other family members. That could include helping kids with a down payment for a home, paying off student loans, choosing and financing college, all the while making critical decisions about caring for elderly parents and downsizing or even expanding a household to include family members also trapped in a sluggish work market. The last thing on these 50-plus readers’ minds in Palm Beach vs. Palm Springs or an Airstream for cross-country retirement adventures. Even for those who do have the means, the current health conscious, fitness-oriented culture works against the idea of a hard cutoff in working life. Indeed, the notion of age itself seemingly is being redefined. The celebrity world, of course, is an extreme example. Despite the emphasis on youth in some areas, aging superstars are becoming the norm: Betty White, starring in a hit TV show, no less, in her 90s; Morgan Freeman, 76, appearing in one major film after another; Clint Eastwood, 83, still churning out hit films, and Judy Dench, at 79, up for Best Actress at the Oscars. Then there is the political landscape, where Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton are eyeing presidential bids and taking the oath of office in their 70’s. Meanwhile, many older Americans with fewer resources are taking second jobs and hoping to remain employed indefinitely.
According to a 2013 Conference Board studies, 62 percent of workers between 45 and 60 plan to delay retirement.
AARP Illinois State Director Bob Gallo says, “There’s no doubt that the notion of retirement is changing. People are living longer, they’re working longer-either out of desire or financial necessity-and they’re looking for ways to stay active and engaged in their communities.”
In fact, a 2011 study by Employee Benefit Research Institute found that “the economy” was the number one reason for postponing retirement. When asked if the notion of retirement even still exists, Gallo responded: “People do still expect to retire. Unfortunately, the scary reality is that many people are unprepared for retirement. On a national level, 45 percent of working age households has no retirement savings.”
According to Gallo, this changing retirement landscape is being driven by the Baby Boomers, the youngest of whom turn 50 this year. “We can expect this trend to continue as Boomers continue to demand a society where age doesn’t define possibility,” said Gallo.