Working Over 70: Still the Exception

For Vita Needle Company’s elderly employees, work is the essence of the fulfillment they feel in their lives.

Howard Ring, a 78-year-old engineer – like many of his coworkers – initially went back to work after retiring, because he needed more money.  And Vita Needle would hire him.

“What I found there was more than just a job,” he says.  In this video, Ring and his elderly coworkers talked about what they derive from work during an October panel discussion at the Newton (Mass.) Free Library.

Is Vita Needle a window into the future? Will growing ranks of retired but still-vigorous boomers return to work after a couple of years, when they grow bored with golf or bridge?

Returning to work – or remaining employed – has proved extremely difficult in the wake of the 2008-2009 stock and housing market collapses.   More late-career workers lost their jobs in the Great Recession than in previous downturns, and their jobless spells lasted longer, according to a forthcoming study by the Center for Retirement Research, which funds this blog.  Now that the economy is growing, it isn’t generating enough jobs for the elderly who do want to work, the study found.

Vita Needle’s heavy reliance on older employees is “unique,” said Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Sloan Center on Aging & Work, which is also at Boston College.

Older workers make excellent employees, she said – they demonstrate a strong work ethic and great attention to detail, whether safety concerns or a customer’s precise product specifications.  But a future of workplaces bustling with aging boomers “is not coming unless there is more labor market demand,” she said.

Vita Needle employees like Rosa Finnegan – age 100 – are such an anomaly they have become virtual celebrities.  They were featured on a German documentary and public television and studied by Olin College professor Caitrin Lynch in her book, “Retirement on the Line: Age, Work, and Value in an American Factory.”

But Squared Away can’t help wondering whether baby boomers, who have put their stamp on so many other aspects of American life, may also redefine the meaning of retirement.

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