People over age 50 working longer

Retirees are reversing their path-- or putting it off altogether
September 9, 2019 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated March 7, 2022 at 3:44 p.m.
A lack of technology skills can be a great barrier in the job-hunting process for many people over 50.
A lack of technology skills can be a great barrier in the job-hunting process for many people over 50.

For many older adults, what used to be considered retirement age seems to be pushed back further every year. Longer life expectancies, limited savings and social security funds plus overall satisfaction in one’s work have resulted in an increase in the percentage of employed adults over age 55. Many older adults are considering the idea of “reverse retirement,” or delaying traditional retirement. But getting back into one’s former career field can be just as daunting as starting a new one.

Some people simply need income, but to others delaying retirement is more about meaningful work. When one King County resident I spoke with thinks about retiring, she wonders: how would I spend my days? She works as a paraeducator at an elementary school and created a behavioral management program to support at-risk kids with the help of other adults in the community. She spends her days working with children and enjoys the social aspects of her fellow staff. With a supportive group of students, coworkers and meaningful work, she taps into her nurturing side when she goes to work each day.

“Before I retire, it would be really important to find an outlet for those strengths that I have before I go ahead and don’t have a job to go to,” she said.

Having a job to go back to is a considerable factor in “reversing retirement” for many adults over 50. Looking for and finding work can look like a task so foreign and daunting that many seniors don’t know where to start. A lack of technology skills is one of the main barriers in the entire process.

Tracy Vandewall is the project director for AARP’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). This program helps hundreds of people over age 55 who make less than $15,000 per year and are seeking work in Washington state. Tracy regularly encounters seniors who struggle to not only fill out an online application, but to qualify for digital-based jobs.

“They can find themselves without any computer skills and today, to apply for a job, the whole world demands that you be able to upload your resume and fill out an application online,” Tracy said.

SCSEP was developed as a training program specifically for older adults who need or want to stay or go back to the workforce but may not have the resume or skills they need to stand out in the competitive market. Aside from technology barriers, the number of people over 50 looking for work is increasing every year. Especially in a large metropolitan area such as the greater Seattle region, Tracy said the demand for the program is tremendous.

Within this demand for work, it is important to not just be employed, but happily employed. People continue learning throughout their entire lives; this means the Seattle area needs a reliable workforce that values and embraces people over age 50 going back to work. This is part of what Tracy and the SCSEP work to achieve for the older generation.

The King County senior I interviewed said that she not only enjoys her job but feels that her age makes a positive difference in solving problems and contributing to her work environment.

“Especially when you’re working with kids, it’s nice to have multi-generational support,” she said.

Health insurance and other benefits are other factors in holding off retirement for her. Paying out of pocket for private health insurance can make a drastic difference in choosing to stay at a job for some people over 50 who are not yet eligible for Medicare.

A Whatcom County resident I interviewed works for the benefits and extra income, in addition to the satisfaction she receives from what she does. She was retired for about a year and a half before going back to her old job as a financial analyst. She likes her coworkers and the environment, but especially her Excel spreadsheets.

“I don’t know if I would've just gone back to work doing anything,” she said.

She does know that there is an end in sight: some on-the-job projects take a few months and some stretch out longer. She came back to take over for a co-worker on maternity leave and ended up completing multiple projects, extending her “break from retirement” to more than two years by the time she retires again early next year.

She thinks it’s important for people to continue to do things to keep themselves active, whether it’s voluntary or paid work. Especially with an increasing lifespan, she said there are many years to fill by being actively engaged in one’s environment.

“Every living organism is either in growth or decay,” she repeated from a book she read years ago, Younger Next Year. “The key is to keep yourself in growth as long as possible.”

According to a research brief by experts on American employment and economics, many retirees said they would consider returning to the workforce in the right conditions. The American Working Conditions Survey Finds That More Than Half of Retirees Would Return to Work, published by research organization RAND, found that “more than half of those 50 and older who were not working and not searching for work reported that they would work in the future if the right opportunity came along.”

This was attributed mostly to retirees’ satisfaction in working. When retirees aim to keep themselves in a stage of growth for as long as possible, an enjoyable job can make those last few decades most meaningful. Having the skills and resources to find satisfying work is the first step in ‘reversing retirement.’

To learn more about the AARP’s Senior Community Service Employment Program, including qualifications to join the program, call them at 1 800-775-6776 or visit and search ‘SCSEP,’ then click on the first link.

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