CHICAGO — Nearly one-quarter of Americans say they never plan to retire, according to a poll that suggests a disconnection between individuals' retirement plans and the realities of aging in the workforce.
Experts say illness, injury, layoffs and caregiving responsibilities often force older workers to leave their jobs sooner than they'd like.
According to the poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 23% of workers, including nearly 2 in 10 of those over 50, don't expect to stop working. Roughly another quarter of Americans say they will continue working beyond their 65th birthday.
According to government data, about 1 in 5 people 65 and older was working or actively looking for a job in June.
For many, money has a lot to do with the decision to keep working.
"The average retirement age that we see in the data has gone up a little bit, but it hasn't gone up that much," says Anqi Chen, assistant director of savings research at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. "So people have to live in retirement much longer, and they may not have enough assets to support themselves in retirement."
When asked how financially comfortable they feel about retirement, 14% of Americans under the age of 50 and 29% over 50 say they feel extremely or very prepared, according to the poll. About another 4 in 10 older adults say they do feel somewhat prepared, while just about one-third feel unprepared. By comparison, 56% of younger adults say they don't feel prepared for retirement.
"People like me, who are average, everyday working people, can have something catastrophic happen, and we lose everything because of medical bills."
Among those who are fully retired, 38% said they felt very or extremely prepared when they retired, while 25% said they felt not very or not at all prepared.
"One of the things about thinking about never retiring is that you didn't save a whole lot of money," says Ronni Bennett, 78, who was pushed out of her job as a New York City-based website editor at 63.
She searched for work in the immediate aftermath of her layoff, a process she describes as akin to "banging my head against a wall." Finding Manhattan too expensive without a steady stream of income, she eventually moved to Portland, Maine. A few years later, she moved again, to Lake Oswego, Oregon.
"Sometimes I fantasize that if I win the lottery, I'd go back to New York," says Bennett, who has a blog called Time Goes By that chronicles her experiences aging, relocating and, during the past two years, living with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
Meanwhile, Americans have mixed assessments of how the aging workforce affects workers: 39% think people staying in the workforce longer is mostly a good thing for American workers, while 29% think it's more a bad thing and 30% say it makes no difference.
A somewhat higher share, 45%, thinks it has a positive effect on the U.S. economy.
Working Americans who are 50 and older think the trend is more positive than negative for their own careers — 42% to 15%. Those younger than 50 are about as likely to say it's good for their careers as to say it's bad.
Just 6% of fully retired AP-NORC poll respondents said they left the labor market before turning 50.
But remaining in the workforce may be unrealistic for people dealing with unexpected illness or injuries. For them, high medical bills and a lack of savings loom large over day-today expenditures.
"People like me, who are average, everyday working people, can have something catastrophic happen, and we lose everything because of medical bills," says Larry Zarzecki, a former Maryland police officer who stopped working in his 40s after developing a resting tremor in his right hand and a series of cognitive and physical symptoms he at times found difficult to articulate.
At 47, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Now 57 and living in Baltimore, Zarzecki says he has learned "to take from Peter and give to Paul, per se, to help make ends meet."
Zarzecki has since helped found Movement Disorder Education and Exercise, a nonprofit organization that offers support and treatment programs to those with similar diseases and certain traumatic brain injuries. He has also helped lobby state and national lawmakers to address rising prescription drug prices.
He receives a pension and health insurance through the state, but he spends more than $3,000 each year out of pocket on medications.
"I can't afford, nor will my insurance cover, the most modern medication there is for Parkinson's," he says. "Eat, heat or treat. These are decisions that people in my position have to make. When it's cold out, or if it's real hot out, do you eat, heat (your home) or treat (your ailment)?"
Former Maryland police officer
PROCTORVILLE, Ohio — The Lawrence County Fair is now in full swing with a week full of family fun events.
The fair opened Saturday. Events this weekend included a lawnmower derby, a hot wheels derby for younger riders, and truck and tractor pulls.
Monday night's feature is the "Monday Night Massacre" demolition derby at the grandstand, which starts at 5 p.m. Tuesday is "Circus Family Day" with three shows at noon, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday will also have face painting, balloons and "Monkey Man."
Wednesday's main event is the Tug-A-Truck Showdown; Thursday is monster truck racing; and Friday will be the rodeo, all starting at 7 p.m.
The fair wraps up Saturday with another Power Wheels derby at 4:30 p.m., a lawnmower derby at 5 p.m. and the derby blowout with a total payout of $20,000 beginning at 6 p.m.
Admission is $10 per day; 65 and older $5 with proper ID; and daily parking costs $5. A membership ticket for all eight days at the fair costs $45, and a parking pass for the fair week costs $20. Rides and grandstand events are free with admission.
The fair is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day.
HUNTINGTON — Brittani Wilt said her initial idea to build a blessings box has expanded into creating a full-fledged park in Huntington's West End neighborhood, complete with benches, a swing and an apple tree.
Wilt and her colleagues from the Children's Home Society of Huntington have worked several days to transform the formerly unused lot into a space that everyone may enjoy.
While working on the lot, located around the corner from The Wild Ramp on West 5th Avenue, people have stopped littering there, and neighbors have taken notice of the improvements.
Wilt, a social work intern, said they were originally looking for a lot to place a blessings box, but plans evolved when they got in touch with the Cabell County Master Gardeners and others who helped
in its design. The lot is owned by the Grace Baptist Church, which agreed to see it transformed.
"They drew up a blueprint, and it just became a whole big project," Wilt said.
Their work is being funded by the nonprofit organization Cities of Service in a program called Love Your Block. The organization's mission is to improve relationships between citizens and city governments through community engagement.
It chose Huntington as one of 10 cities to participate in the two-year Love Your Block program, giving $25,000 to allocate as mini-grant projects in the West End neighborhood.
In its first year, the city's selection committee awarded seven mini-grants for projects including four public space enhancements, two exterior home repairs and the newly created park.
Wilt said she was researching information for the blessings box when she saw the Love Your Block program application on the city's website. They then applied for it and won.
Building the park fits within the goals of the Children's Home Society, said Diana Lucas, site supervisor.
"We just want to be embedded in our community so we can try to reach children and their families," she said. "Our mission is to promote the well-being of the family."
Among other grant recipients was the West Huntington Organization, which repainted signs, planted trees and rebuilt a falling sidewalk. The Old Central City Association used a minigrant to plant flowers around the 14th Street West Gazebo. The Wild Ramp used the grant to install a planter to benefit bees and other pollinators. Two people were also given grants to make minor exterior home repairs.
Through the Love Your Block program, the city was designated two AmeriCorps VISTA workers to oversee and help guide the projects. One of those VISTA workers was Nathan Thomas, who said he enjoyed seeing all the projects come together.
"Looking at the Children's Home lot and what that looked like even in January, it was an uncared for land. Now it's becoming a really beautiful community sanctuary," he said. "It shows what a project with a strong vision can be just through simple mini-grants."
Bre Shell, city planner, said she is looking forward to more improvement projects around West Huntington in the program's second year. In the meantime, the city is seeking two more AmeriCorps VISTA members to help oversee projects next year.
The one-year commitment comes with a living stipend and additional money after completion of service. Relocation assistance is also provided if necessary. To apply, visit http://my.americorps.gov and search for Love Your Block. The program is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.