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Retirement Planning > Saving for Retirement

Welcome to 'Unretirement': Most Older Americans Say They'll Keep Working

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The conventional view of retirement as a time of no work and hopefully some play may be passe. 

A new Harris Poll conducted on behalf of TD Ameritrade finds that a solid majority of Americans age 40 and older plan to continue working after retiring. And of those who intend to keep working, most plan to work their entire lives.

“Gone are the days of retirement being seen an essential, defined life stage, where an employee could expect to work for a company long-term and be taken care after retiring,” said Christine Russell, senior manager of retirement and annuities at TD Ameritrade, in a statement.

Long-term employment in a single job paying a pension in retirement has been long gone from the U.S. labor market for the majority of workers, but the idea of working in retirement is a growing trend, one advisors may want to consider when working with clients on their retirement savings. 

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, workers 55 and older have constituted an increasing share of the labor force since 2000, reflecting not just the aging of the population but also the differences in labor force participation rates of younger and older workers — falling for the former and rising for the latter. 

A 2017 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that about 40% of people ages 55 and older were working or actively looking for work in 2014, and the number “is expected to increase fastest” for people 65 and older.

The Harris Poll of 2,000 adults ages 40 to 79 with at least $25,000 in investable assets found that 92% of the youngest cohort (40-59) plan to continue working for pay after retiring while 86% of those age 50-59 plan to do the same. More than half (55%) of “unretirees” — the term covers all age groups — plan to continue working until the end of their lives. The percentages fell for older workers but remained above 50% even for those age 70 to 79.

On average, those in their 40s and 50s plan to work 20 hours per week for pay after retiring, and those in their 70s plan to keep working 10 hours per week.

Financial need wasn’t the primary reason unretirees gave for their plans to keep working in retirement. Roughly 70% cited staying sharp and not being bored. About 60% cited financial need. 

Three in 10 retirees said they lost their sense of identity when they stopped working.

Whether those still working will be able to continue working in retirement is unknown, but the economy will likely need them because of changing demographics. A Harvard Business Review article published in September reports that people age 60 and over are projected to outnumber children under the age of 5 within the next year, and by 2025, 25% of workers in the U.S. are expected to be over the age of 55. That “same cohort of workers is the fastest growing in almost every country,” and “in the U.S., job vacancies have outnumbered job applicants since 2018.” 

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