The rocking-chair retirement image has been smashed to bits, both by desire to keep working and by dire retirement savings realities.

(Bloomberg Business) — In the past, somebody working in retirement might have been pitied. Now, they’re more likely to be envied.

The rocking-chair retirement image has been smashed to bits, both by desire to keep working and by dire retirement savings realities. Many Americans want to work well beyond age 65 if their bodies and employers allow. In a 2014 Merrill Lynch Bank of America survey, boomers expected 17 percent of their retirement funding to come from employment income; that number jumped to 26 percent for millennials. But a mounting number of surveys drive home the fact that counting on income to be earned in retirement is risky.

The latest pieces of unwelcome evidence, in a survey of middle-income baby boomers by insurance firm Bankers Life, isn’t entirely gloomy, but does serve as a reality check. (Middle income is defined as between $25,000 and $100,000 in annual household income; about 1,000 middle-income and 2,300 retired boomers, 51 to 69, were surveyed.) Many middle-class workers just don’t get to work as long as they want to, which puts their retirement savings plans at risk. The 28 percent of retired boomers surveyed who are or have been employed in retirement often earn significantly less than in their previous job, with close to 75 percent saying their hourly compensation is “much less” than before. 

On the flip side, people in professional services who can do part-time consulting work often wind up having bonus income in retirement, said financial planner Michael Kitces. His wealthy clients often get bored after six to 18 months, and so have encore careers they didn’t count on.

While 60 percent of the people in the Bankers Life survey want to retire at 66 or later (or never), the chart below from the Merrill Lynch Bank of America report shows 64 as the average retirement age for men. An earlier study, looking at the median retirement age, found that since 1991 it has been stuck at age 62. 

Part of the reason more workers aren’t making the transition into retirement jobs is that many companies aren’t set up to accommodate flexible working arrangements, according to a recent survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. But it’s health issues that quash many middle-class workers’ plans for working into their retirement.  

Oh, and that part of the Bankers Life survey that wasn’t entirely gloomy? The majority of the 28 percent of retired middle-class boomers who either are working or have worked for pay during retirement say it’s not because finances forced them to but because they wanted to work. The extra money’s nice, they say, but so is staying mentally alert, keeping active, having a sense of purpose and staying in touch with colleagues.

Work has a way of being much more fun when you do it out of choice, rather than need.

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