Interactive Map: More Seniors in Garden State Working Beyond Age of 65

Colleen O'Dea | December 4, 2015 | Map of the Week, Maps
A growing number of New Jerseyans are spending their ‘golden years’ working -- or wishing they could find work

Every day, Pat Davenport gets up and goes to work as an insurance-company courier, collecting accident reports from police departments and submitting them to her employer.

She enjoys going out and meeting people, but this is not how she had planned to spend her senior years. Almost 82 years old, Davenport had envisioned a retirement that included traveling. Now, it’s all she can do to scrape together enough money for a senior bus trip to a nice Thanksgiving dinner.

“I had to go back to work,” said Davenport, who lives in Roxbury. “I still pay my mortgage, which takes my full Social Security check by the time you add in the property tax and the home insurance. My pension pays for my coinsurance and prescription drug coverage. I have absolutely nothing left.”

Davenport is among a growing number of New Jersey senior citizens who continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65. According to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 270,000 New Jersey seniors are working, a figure approaching a quarter of the state’s 1.2 million residents of retirement age. It’s higher than the national average of about 19 percent of seniors who work. The 2014 American Community Survey, released on Thursday, estimates for the first time the work schedules of senior citizens. To be as accurate as possible, the figures represent an average of the data from 2010 through 2014.

The ACS found that a greater percentage of older men work than older women, 28 percent versus 17 percent. A majority of working seniors, or more than 150,000, put in 35 hours a week and nearly half, or about 46 percent, worked a full-time job essentially year-round, meaning they worked at least 48 weeks. About three in 10 working seniors toiled part-time and another 14 percent worked less than 15 hours a week.

“They are working longer in life mostly because that can’t afford not to,” said Douglas Johnston, governmental affairs director of the AARP of New Jersey. He noted the high cost of living, healthcare, and property taxes as just some of the bills the state’s seniors have trouble covering. While the fact that New Jersey seniors have to work is troubling, Johnston said, “It is a good thing that some can find jobs. Many cannot.”

That’s true. A second ACS dataset made public on Thursday found that almost 9 percent of those ages 65 to 74, and about 8 percent of those 75 and older who wanted to work over the past five years could not get a job. Those unemployment rates were both higher than in the 2005-to-2009 period. At the same time, more seniors were working because more entered the workforce, whether out of necessity or desire: 31 percent of those age 65 to 74 were in the workforce, according to the 2014 data, compared with 28 percent in the 2009 data, and almost 7 percent of those 75 and older were working or looking for work, almost 1 percentage point higher than five years earlier.

Davenport, who works close to full-time hours, is worried about losing work because more and more police departments are able to send reports electronically to insurance companies, bypassing the need for a courier.

“I don’t have an income other than what I bring in in my little part-time job,” said Davenport, who relies on the township nutrition program for some of her meals and has applied for state heating assistance.”It’s not easy.”