WASHINGTON -- To retire or not to retire?
For most of us, the answer is "Yes." So we work for it, save for it and plan for it. But for many other people, the answer is "No." They have no desire to retire, and instead they look for strategies that will help them avoid retirement.
One prominent member of the "No" camp is Bert Ely, president of Ely & Co. of Alexandria, Va. Ely is a 60-year-old consultant and an expert in the field of banking and financial services. If his name sounds familiar, it's because Ely is quoted frequently in newspaper, radio and television stories about banking issues. A man of high energy who loves his work, Ely says he does not want to ever fully retire.
"While eventually I might like to trim my present 60-hour workweek to 50 hours or even 40 hours and take a few longer weekends," Ely told me, "continuing to work full time still seems much more attractive, invigorating and fun than the alternatives."
Ely's plan to keep on working makes him part of the advance wave of Americans who, experts predict, will work well into their seventies and eighties. Indeed, the federal government already is pushing millions of workers toward later retirement: Social Security's full retirement age will soon begin a slow rise from 65 to 67, so people will need to keep working until their benefits kick in. But now, when workers reach their full retirement age, they can take their Social Security benefits and continue to work without any limit on their earnings. That will prompt many people to stay on the job and enjoy the extra income.
There is a nongovernmental reason, too: The two-year bear market has cut deeply into the 401(k) balances of many workers nearing retirement. The decline is expected to encourage those employees to keep working so they can add to their retirement savings.
Meanwhile, many baby boomers -- people born between 1946 and 1964 -- expect to work part time or full time after retirement, according to public opinion polls taken over the past several years. A survey conducted for the brokerage firm UBS PaineWebber reported that 85 percent of boomers expect to work after retirement. An AARP survey taken by Roper Starch Worldwide said 80 percent of boomers plan to do so.
A key reason is that the nation's 77 million baby boomers will go into retirement with a very different attitude about work than did their parents, said J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich Inc., a national consumer-marketing consulting firm. Smith spoke at a recent meeting of the Investment Company Institute in Washington.
The parents of boomers, Smith said, thought of retirement as "a time at which you get disconnected from the workplace."
Boomers, on the other hand, will want to stay closely connected to the workplace, Smith predicted. For one thing, they enjoy better health than their parents. In fact, Smith said, "a sense of youthfulness is the defining characteristic of baby boomers."
Also, they generally enjoy work. "The whole notion of 'meaningful work' was really a baby-boomer concept," he said. And then, the workplace continues to be "a core part of the self-identity of baby boomers."
As a result, Smith added, boomers will want to remain "more actively involved ... still the center of attention ... still on the quest for the next new adventure ... still trying to break the rules." And work, he said, "is a large part of that."
While most boomers say they will work after they retire, Ely is more adamant. He does not want to retire at all, and he is thinking hard about strategies that will help him to avoid retirement. This will not be easy, he noted.
As one grows older, Ely acknowledged, it can get harder to stay at the top of one's professional game. And if health problems develop, it can become even more difficult to keep up a fast-paced career.
Out of all of the issues involving not retiring, Ely seems most concerned about the task of remaining professionally relevant. To do that, he said, it is important for him to stay in touch not only with financial service issues but also with people in the industry.
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