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. And in Stamford, with more than one in four seniors still heading to work, the rates are higher than just about anywhere else in the nation.
There are several reasons for this, including a high cost of living in southwestern Connecticut and personal decisions.
“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.”
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.”
For Connie Stevenson, a principal at Stamford’s Northeast Elementary School, continuing to work past the age of retirement was a no-brainer.
“I have no sense of time,” said Stevenson, who has worked for Stamford Public Schools for more than a half-century.
“People continue doing what you normally do until you become tired. That word, ‘tired,’ is in retirement, and I have never been tired,” she said. “I think when you are still full of energy and you still enjoy what you do, then you can keep doing it – and I still love what I do.”
She attributes her desire to continue working to the fact that she’s been able to experience a lot of change in the 52 years she’s worked in the district, shifting from roles as a kindergarten teacher to sixth grade, then to assistant principal positions and ultimately her principal role at Northeast, where she has been for the past four school years.
“Longevity always gives you an opportunity for change, and with change comes a revitalization,” she said. “Some people just stay in one job for 25 years and they grow tired of it, but if you’re always moving, it feels like you’re always doing something new.”
In addition to Stevenson’s theory that change and motion have kept her in action after others may have retired, there is also research that explains why a higher concentration of people in this area, where educational attainment is so high, may be working later. According to the AARP, people with higher levels of education work later in life. 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 35.9 percent of Stamford 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 12.2 percent of Stamford 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.
“It’s a whole new generation of seniors we have now,” said Nelson.
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