For older workers, a paycheck is security

In tight times, retirements are being delayed - or ended.

In these scary economic times, older workers are putting off retirement and hanging on to their paychecks.

And some retirees struggling to make ends meet are scanning help-wanted ads for the first time in years.

Jeff Rollison, 60, who works at the General Motors Corp. plant in Lordstown, Ohio, told the automaker earlier this year that he was retiring. Now, he has changed his mind.

Rollison is worried that something could happen to his retiree health benefits before he becomes eligible for Medicare at age 65. He is the sole breadwinner for himself and his wife and also is concerned about his grown children, including a son with three children who is being laid off at another GM plant.

"There's a lot of uncharted waters out there, and we have questions that can't be answered by anybody right now on how well the company will do in the short term," said Rollison, a member of United Auto Workers Local 1112.

An AARP survey of 1,100 people conducted in December showed that 16 percent of respondents 45 and older had postponed retirement because of the economic downturn. The percentage of people planning to delay retirement shot up to 57 percent among respondents who were working or looking for a job and had lost money in the stock market during the last year.

Robert Dobkin's last day on the job as spokesman for Pepco Holdings Inc., a utility company in the District of Columbia and Maryland, was supposed to be April 1. Now, that has been delayed indefinitely.

"I felt that I was in a good position to retire until the market kept going down and down and the economy ground to a halt," said Dobkin, 67. "There's no point in retiring . . . until I have a better feel for where the economy is going."

The average retirement age, which was between 62 and 63 for men and women last year, is rising, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute. For example, the percentage of 63-year-old men who were in the workforce rose from 44 percent in 2000 to 51 percent in 2007, according to the institute.

The recession is not the only reason people are working longer. Life expectancy is increasing. So, too, is the age at which workers are entitled to receive full Social Security benefits.

Mark Lassiter, a Social Security Administration spokesman, said that while some older people stay on the job during economic downturns, others turn to Social Security because their jobs are eliminated. The agency reported a nearly 9 percent increase in retirement claims between the 2008 budget year and 2009.

An increase was expected because baby boomers are starting to retire, but the jump was higher than anticipated because of the recession, he said.

At 74, Beverly London of Big Run, Pa., thought her days of working were over. She and her husband sold the carpet store they operated to their son and settled into retirement.

They felt secure with thousands of dollars of bank stock. But the bank failed, and the stock's value shrank from six figures to four.

London, via Experience Works - a national nonprofit organization that receives money from the U.S. Labor Department's Senior Community Service Employment Program to provide part-time jobs to low-income workers 55 and older - got part-time work at Pennsylvania CareerLink, a state unemployment office in nearby Punxsutawney. She is happy and healthy, but knows her working days are numbered.

"I'm just glad I can write a check for the $400 gas bill," she said.

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