More People Are Putting Off Retirement

By Brenda Flanagan

“That’s the way things are, and I believe that’s the way things are going to go,” said state worker Frans Philippi.

Philippi’s almost 66 years old and still works full-time as a state building inspector. Like a growing number of Americans in their late 60s and 70s, he’s got no plans to retire soon — as a matter of dollars and cents. It’s not what he expected.

“I was expecting, probably I was going to work until 70, but I was expecting at 66 to collect Social Security, get my pension and just downsize and just enjoy my life. That’s basically it,” he said. “It’s not going to happen, no. I don’t see it.”

Here’s one reason why: angry political battles over the under-funded New Jersey state worker pensions leave Philippi feeling very uncertain about his family’s financial future. Plus, he faces tuition bills.

“I’m going to continue working, only because to pay for the kids’ schooling,” he said. He can’t do it on Social Security alone. “No. That would be impossible,” he said.

“The key thing for retirement security is for people to work longer. It’s not just a statistic. It’s really the biggest lever individuals have to make sure they’re going to have enough money,” said Alicia Munnell.

Analysts like Munnell at Boston College note the average retirement age has gone up by two years over the last couple decades. An analysis of U.S. labor statistics shows, back in 2000 4 million Americans — some 12.8 percent of those aged 65 and older — reported working full- or part-time. That’s compared to 9 million — 18.8 percent — this May. In New Jersey, it’s 23 percent. Why?

“I would suspect that people in New Jersey are on average better-educated than the rest of the U.S. population and that is a strong factor there,” Munnell said.

She says better-educated people hold higher-paying, more rewarding jobs. But John Willis retired after driving a truck for decades. He’s still working odd jobs to make ends meet.

“It’s not easy,” he said. Does he think most people retire thinking they’re going to be able to make it on Social Security? “I think so. … I don’t know. I did. And it’s just not working out,” he said.

People who stay in the workforce and delay Social Security until they turn 70, can also boost those benefits by 70 percent. Phillipi tries to take a long view of the new reality.

“I never get disappointed at things I see in life. I just go with the flow,” he said.

For many, working past retirement age does bring some benefits. It keeps people active and focused, which is important, especially if you’re trying to keep up with a demanding job.