Connecticut has one of the highest shares of senior citizens in the workforce in the entire nation, with 21.8 percent of state residents over the age of 65 having worked in the last 12 months, according to census figures. The percentages are even higher in many towns in the Bridgeport area, like Weston, where about 40 percent of seniors still head to work.
There are several reasons for this, including a high cost of living in Southwestern Connecticut and personal decisions. But those reasons can vary between Connecticut’s fiercely independent towns, with senior citizens in the area’s cities more often working for need, while many suburban senior citizens work for pleasure.
“Of course, I think we can all agree that living in Connecticut is a little more expensive than elsewhere,” said Ana Nelson, president and executive director of the Stamford Senior Center. “Some folks would need to work just out of necessity.”
In Weston, Director of Social Services Charlene Chiang-Hillman said many of the town’s seniors continue to work simply because “they like what they’re doing,” and want to continue on.
“A lot of people here are small business owners who run businesses out of their houses, and they’re still working and they enjoy it,” she said. “They might be partially retired, but they’re very vibrant, active folks and they see no reason to stop. It’s a very positive thing.”
Across the nation, the share of older Americans in the workforce has been growing for years. Back in 1985, 10.8 percent of people over the age of 65 were working, according to Dave Nathan, a spokesperson for the AARP.
“It’s gone up incrementally ever since, almost every year,” he said last week. “It hasn’t quite doubled, but the trajectory … looks like it’s headed upwards.”
Nationally, 18.7 percent of Americans older than 65 worked within the past 12 months at the time of the 2011 American Community Survey, the most recent comprehensive report of the data. And Connecticut has the 12th highest share in the nation. Alaska has the highest at 28.1 percent, while West Virginia has the lowest at 13.3 percent.
The national trend is linked to the fact that seniors are much healthier these days than in years past, and as life expectancy increases along with general health and well-being in the golden years, the need for a bigger nest egg becomes a much greater reality.
“I think generally, people are working longer because they feel in a sense that they’re having better health. And they’re able to deal with health challenges through medications more successfully than in the past,” said Joe Carbone, president and CEO of Bridgeport-based The Workplace, Inc.
“As a result, they need more money than sometimes what their pension and social security can provide,” he said.
In Stamford, Nelson said she sees a large share of the 1,100 members involved in the city’s senior center continue to work into their 60s and 70s – some because they need to, and others because they want to.
“With a lot of seniors, we find they have a need to continue to work to stay active because when you work and contribute, you feel good about yourself,” she said.
“There’s only so much golf you can play,” she added. “You still want to be able to contribute, and they have so much to contribute that to them, they see the continuation of work as another way of showing they’re still involved in the community.”
There’s also a link between people with higher educational attainment working later into life, according to the AARP. This correlation can be linked with job satisfaction in top-tier careers, as well as the fact that higher educational attainment can also affect other aspects of family life.
“People with higher education tend to have children later in life, and therefore they may have children in college while they’re nearing retirement age,” said Nora Duncan, state director of AARP Connecticut.
Nationally, 23.2 percent of seniors over the age of 65 have at least a bachelor’s degree, according to data from the 2012 American Communities Survey. But in Connecticut, the rate is 28.5 percent. And it increases even more significantly in the state’s southwestern corner, with 35.3 percent of Fairfield County seniors having at least a bachelor’s degree.
With the population of seniors in the workforce growing steadily, it begs the question: Is 75 the new 65?
That’s something the AARP doesn’t have an answer for, according to Duncan. But a peek at the data shows that it may well be the case, as 19.2 percent of Weston residents are still working after the age of 75, which is higher than the 1985 rate the AARP cites for people over the age of 65.
“I would say what our idea of a senior citizen is really starts around 75 these days,” said Chiang-Hillman from Weston.