Baby boomers in Clark County delay retirement

A growing economy may have people feeling rosier about retirement, but more older people still want to work

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Older adults employed in Clark County

Employed population

Year     age 65 and older

1990      4.6%

1995      5.6%

2000      6.6%

2005      8.0%

2010      9.6%

2015      11.0%

2016      11.1%

Note: All years use second-quarter data.

Source: State Employment Security Department

In his nearly 40 years in the jewelry business, it hasn’t been uncommon for Joe Lanning to work six days a week. Three of those days, he would drive back to work after dinner to chisel out a few more hours.

Long hours, he said, go hand-in-hand with running your own business, as he and his wife do at My Jeweler, 809 Main St. And, despite turning 70 this month, Lanning said he has no plans to retire, though he has cut back his hours.

“I am going to work, probably, until I die,” he said with a shrug.

There is no macabre tone to how he says it, nor any undercurrents of a workaholic. Lanning, a Portland native, has been working since he was a teenager. Retirement really doesn’t appeal to him, he said.

“I would be doing something anyhow, because I couldn’t just sit,” he said.

Lanning isn’t alone. As baby boomers age, they seem to be retiring at a slower rate than prior generations. The reasons for this can vary, but financial planners and economists interviewed for this article say many either haven’t saved enough money or, like Lanning, simply feel too healthy to hang it up.

“I think there are a lot of people of my generation that have worked since they were teenagers, and to stop — what are they going to do?” Lanning said. “I think there are a lot of them that enjoy working. … They just want to talk and be with people, rather than sit at home with a cat or a dog and have that for their only company.”

Golden work years

While there isn’t centralized retirement data for private industries, economists with the Employment Security Department do track workforce demographics.

A statistic called the employment-to-population ratio measures the number of employed persons of a specific age against the total size of that age group. For Clark County residents aged 65 and older, the number of people working has grown from 4.6 percent in 1990 to 11 percent today.

Factors contributing to such a rise seem tied with both the recession and generational trends, said Scott Bailey, a regional economist who examines Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties. In other words, baby boomers saved less, yet they are living longer.

“One (reason for the increase in older people working) is they kind of say, ‘Hey, I feel good. I’m healthy. I like my job. Why quit?’ ” Bailey said. “A second (reason) is them saying: ‘Savings? What savings?’ ”

The trend isn’t restricted to Southwest Washington. Almost 19 percent of people aged 65-plus in the country held at least a part-time job, according to a jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released this month.

The workforce participation rate for those older workers hasn’t been that great since American retirees were first awarded Medicare benefits in the 1960s.

From April to June of this year, 32 percent of Americans ages 65 to 69 were employed. And the numbers of 70- to 74-year-olds working rose from 11 percent in 1994 to 19 percent.

Russell Brent, who owns Battle Ground’s Mill Creek Pub, is one of those boomers who plans to keep working. Brent, 56, said he would like to be in a position to retire at 65, but he doesn’t expect he will want to.

“Seventy is the new 60,” he said. “My dad is 89 years old and holds a part-time job.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, by 2024, 36 percent of 65- to 69-year-olds will be active in the labor market.

Portfolio performers

Finances play a major factor in people’s decision to retire. Some have assumed that more people might retire with the economy, and stock market, swinging upward.

That doesn’t appear to be the case, at least not decisively so, according to financial planners in Clark County. People may be feeling better about their retirement funds, but they weigh that against many factors, such as their family situation and health care costs and access.

“The general trend is people are optimistic about what’s going on with the economy, but I don’t see more people retiring,” said Matt Henderson, a financial adviser with Edward Jones in Battle Ground.

The reason may be because people try not to be reactive with their financial plans, he said.

“I see people say, ‘I want to work to age 65, and have an income of XYZ.’ If you get to XYZ before that retirement date, people still want to work,” Henderson said. “I haven’t heard a client come in and say ‘I’ve made an extra $20,000; I’m ready to pull the trigger.’ ”

Business owners, like Lanning and Brent, might be in a better position to retire with the economy’s stronger performance.

Matt Bisturis, an attorney with Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt who helps business owners plan for retirement, said the recession created a pent-up supply of entrepreneurs who are interested in retiring. Now they could be sitting prettier because they could get a higher asking price when they sell their business.

“I think there’s a lot of people who put those transactions on hold three to five years ago who are now getting ready to pull the trigger,” he said.