As the Valley’s population ages, some seniors are finding themselves working far past retirement age. Reasons vary from financial necessity to simply enjoying the social aspects the workplace offers. Aspen Public Radio’s Rebecca Kruth checked in with a couple of local seniors to find out what’s kept them in the workforce.
Rich Burge has been working since he was a boy. The 75-year-old property manager said he’ll do it until he can’t anymore.
“I’ve joked that someday they’ll find me face down in one of my homes I take care,” Burge said.
Burge, who enjoys his job, said he always knew he’d keep working past retirement age. What he didn’t know was that he wouldn’t have a choice.
A family tragedy kept Burge out of work for a year and left him raising two grandchildren. Other financial hardships followed including three open-heart surgeries for his wife.
“To start with, we planned to retire and had money put away, but when these things came into our lives that we didn’t expect, it kind of ate things up,” he said. You never know what’s going to happen in your life, you just don’t know. It’s good to have a reserve, just in case.”
A growing number of seniors across the country are spending their golden years working. Burge said he’s luckier than most.
“Most of the people at my age don’t have quite the energy that I have. I was just talking to one on the phone this morning. Same age as I am. He’s pretty crippled up and can’t do a lot, and he pretty much doesn’t have any money, so he has to live on his Social Security which makes it very, very difficult,” Burge said.
Seniors leaving retirement to re-enter the workforce may find job-hunting challenging.
Marty Ames is Director of the Pitkin County Senior Center.
“It is harder, as you get older, to find the work for which you’ve trained or that you’ve done in the past, and the farther you are from your education or the last time you did some training, the more technology grows,” she said. “You may not be involved in that part of it, of computers or changes in technology that help you keep up. It does get tougher.”
Ames said employers aren’t always willing to look at the positives an older employee can bring to the workplace.
“It’s something employers could look at as a very positive thing, to be able to look, especially within their businesses, to say, ‘Where could I put a highly experienced, maybe socially experienced, someone with a different kind of experience from a young person?’” she said. “It would be great if employers could think in that way, to say, ‘This would be a great job for someone more mature, with more life experience.’”
66-year-old Patricia Overton agreed.
Overton worked various jobs in hotels and ski shops after moving to Aspen in the early ‘70s, but she quit working when her children were born.
Then, a divorce and a series of financial setbacks left Overton job hunting after being out of the workforce for nearly 20 years.
“In any of the places where you’re an up-front person, they want younger people. There’s so many jobs I can’t get,” Overton said. “It’s very difficult for people to hire you, unless you’re working with another elderly person, and you’re younger than them, then they see you as somebody that can do things.”
Without computer skills, Overton’s options were limited.
“I could have kept in something part-time, but I had married a man that I didn’t really need to work, so it was a gift to be able to just be a mother,” she said. “I didn’t see what was heading for me. I wasn’t trained. At my age, we didn’t train women in looking ahead and knowing that you can always take care of yourself.”
Today, Overton earns money doing odd jobs like cooking, cleaning and running errands, mostly for other seniors.She also rents out both bedrooms in her home, but rising condo community fees have left her uncertain how much longer she’ll be able to stay.
Many of her friends have already left Aspen for more affordable housing options.
“We’ve held this town together as far as volunteering, and being here all these years, but then when it comes time for that to come back to us, it’s gone to the younger people, and that bothers me,” Overton said.
Glenwood Springs resident Rich Burge believes young folks in the Roaring Fork Valley could find themselves in the same situation, unless they plan their futures more carefully than he did.
“If I knew what I know now when I was 20 years old, I would probably live in one of these Aspen houses,” Burge said. “But we have to learn, and I think life is a learning process.”