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Interactive Map: More New Jersey Seniors Are Working or Looking for Work

Older New Jerseyans are employed at higher rates than the national average and there has been a marked increase in the number of workers over the age of 75

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For decades, the typical retirement age for Americans was 65, which was around the same time one could start collecting Social Security.

But people who are not yet retired need to wait until age 66 or later to collect full Social Security benefits. And a growing number of senior citizens are working past age 65 and even 75.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey reported that more than one in three New Jerseyans between ages 65 and 74 were in the workforce, meaning they were employed or looking for work, and almost 29 percent were working. That’s about 3 percentage points higher than just seven years earlier.

Employment among those age 75 and older rose even faster, jumping from 5.8 percent employed in 2009 to 6.7 percent in 2016. The proportion of those elders in the workforce increase by a full point to 7.1 percent.

New Jersey seniors are working at higher rates than the national average. Not quite a quarter of all Americans age 65 to 74 were employed in 2016 and 6 percent of those 75 and older were working.

Many can't afford to stop working

There are several reasons for this trend. Many of those who have worked four decades or longer and were looking forward to relaxing once they reach their mid-60s have found they can’t afford to stop working, especially in a high-cost state like New Jersey. Others enjoy their work and want to continue and many can do so because today’s seniors tend to stay healthier longer than their parents and grandparents did.

“Our workforce is aging,” said Evelyn Liebman, AARP NJ’s director of advocacy. “People are living longer and many will need or want to work beyond what was once considered typical retirement age. The fact that older workers are staying on the job longer is a good thing for the economy.”

Over-65 workers comprised nearly 6 percent of New Jersey’s workforce in 2016, according to Census data. The number of seniors working that year totaled nearly 250,000, an increase of nearly 20 percent from 2012.

Those who need to keep working may not have saved enough to survive in their retirement. According to the National Academy of Social Insurance, the average monthly Social Security benefit was $1,391 last June, while the maximum benefit for a worker retiring at the full age of 66 was $2,687.

Census data shows the median annual Social Security benefit for New Jerseyans age 65 and older totaled $21,484 in 2016. Just 48 percent of people of retirement age were actually collecting some sort of retirement benefit, with the typical retiree getting almost $27,000 in a pension or other retirement income. More than 16 percent of the state’s senior citizens, or almost 205,000, were struggling to make ends meet — living at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty line.

Some have no retirement savings plans

“A number of older workers remain in the workplace because they don’t have secure sources of income in retirement,” Liebman said. “More than half of New Jersey’s private sector workers have no access to retirement savings plans at work. This is one reason AARP is working to establish a state-sponsored retirement savings plan that makes it easy for workers to save for retirement at no cost to their employers.”

The varying rates of employed senior citizens in New Jersey’s municipalities do not seem to follow an expected pattern. Victory Gardens and Neptune, communities with greater racial and ethnic diversity than the state but lower median incomes, had at least half of residents age 65 to 74 working in the 2012-2016 period, according to 5-year Census ACS data. But so did such high-income and high-cost communities as Glen Ridge, Far Hills and Mendham Township.

Liebman said there is no reason why people who want to keep working as they age should not continue to do so.

“It’s important to break down the stereotypes that have always been part of the misperceptions about the role age plays in employment,” she said. “Age is a number, not a credential. Experience increases with age; it does not reach a certain level and then cease to be important. It is not uncommon to see four or five different generations working side by side in many workplaces, and that trend will continue in the future.”

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