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Some seniors continue working into their retirement years

October 28, 2002

By JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Bill Bulla was eligible to retire and receive his full Social Security benefit 14 years ago, but the Hagerstown resident kept working out of need and desire.

"I would like to retire. That's a quandary that is facing me at this particular time," Bulla said.

Bulla, 79, is one of a growing number of people who are eligible to receive full Social Security retirement benefits, but have kept working because they need or want to, experts said.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 22 percent of men 65 and older were working in 2000 and 15 percent of women that age were working, according to the Administration on Aging. Those percentages are expected to continue increasing.

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Washington County Commission on Aging Executive Director Fred Otto didn't have statistics, but said more people eligible for Social Security continue to work because of health benefits.

"More and more workers are paying a higher premium and receiving fewer benefits through the various health plans employers use," said Otto, who is still working at 77.

Even with Medicare and Bulla's secondary health insurance coverage through work, he estimates he spent $7,400 last year out of pocket on health care. Bulla said he spent $4,500 on private insurance for his wife and $2,900 on prescriptions.

Just the other day he spent $280 on five of his wife's 21 prescriptions. Bulla's wife, Barbara, 84, has macular degeneration, an eye condition that deteriorates vision. Without the Medicare and private insurance, those five prescriptions would have cost $900, he said.

Bulla expects his health-care costs to increase as prices for private health care continue to escalate.

"That'll give you an idea of why some of us seniors work," Bulla said.

What's more, the former Valley Mall manager and private consultant now finds himself looking for another job. His employer, the United Way of Washington County, will soon phase out his position as community relations director, he said.

Spreading his duties out among other workers will cut down on overhead for the nonprofit group, so it's a good business move, Bulla said.

Bulla won't blame Social Security or Medicare. He doesn't want others taxed more to increase funding for those programs to benefit him.

"As long as I'm capable of helping with my living expenses, I shouldn't have to rely on taxpayers to make up the difference," Bulla said.

"Just because I have 79 candles on the cake doesn't mean I don't have something to offer," Bulla said. "Maybe it's my time to do something for the people that did things for me indirectly."

But, Bulla admits that if it weren't for his and his wife's health-care costs, he probably would have retired two years ago and focused more on his watercolor painting and fishing.

"I'm not ready to fold up," Bulla said.

Another man's story

Neither is Robert A. Poor, 74, who never envisioned himself retiring.

Poor watched as his father was forced to retire at age 65. He was too young to retire and didn't have a backup plan for another career, Poor said.

"I had a concept of what retirement was, but I never dreamed that I'm going to plan that, when I turn such and such an age, I'm going to quit working," Poor said. "That thought has never occurred to me."

"My objective was not to retire, but to have the opportunity to do things that I really wanted to do and enjoyed," said Poor, of Hagerstown.

For Poor, that was being his own boss so he didn't need permission to go on vacation.

As a retirement planner, certified senior advisor and owner of R.A. Poor Associates, Poor sees other senior citizens starting their own businesses for the freedom it gives them to make their own decisions about what retirement is for them.

One reason more people who are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits keep working is because they want to, Poor said.

"My generation was a working generation," he said.

His work ethic comes in part from watching how his family, including himself, worked to survive the Depression and continued working during World War II when many able-bodied men left the fields and factories to go to war.

Of course, for many seniors the decision whether to work isn't a choice because their financial plan for retirement - if they have one - didn't pan out.

"Nobody who has reasonable expectations of retirement can retire on what they expect from Social Security. You can't do it. It's not enough money," Poor said.

Social Security changes

March 2003 will be the first month the new full retirement age kicks in for Social Security benefits, Social Security Administration spokesman Mark Hinkle said. The law changed in 1983 and no longer will 65 be an automatic age for benefits, he said.

The revised table increases the age in increments to the point where people born in 1960 or later won't be eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits until they are 67 years old.

Otto said there is a movement afoot to push the eligibility age to 68 and Poor said he's heard Congressional members have discussed pushing the age to 70.

The age was increased in an effort to help cushion Social Security's financial crisis as the large Baby Boomer population becomes eligible for Social Security, experts said.

Poor said, hopefully, senior citizens had retirement plans such as a 401(k) and can work part time to continue supporting themselves, he said.

Roger Fisher, 71, of Fayetteville, Pa., was able to retire early at age 62 thanks to income from his union pension, 401(k) and Social Security.

His retirement plan included moving from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, where his retirement fund isn't taxed by the state, he said.

Instead of continuing to drive a truck 60 hours a week to New York City, the widower plays golf five or six days a week and volunteers at his church and the Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, Pa.

"I knew I wanted to retire early, so I did," Fisher said.

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