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Many aging boomers balk at retirement

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Even after four decades in practice, Sacramento, Calif., family law attorney Hal Bartholomew, 66, has no wish to retire. “I really enjoy what I do,” he said.

Retirement is nowhere on the horizon for Michael Monk, 52, either – but for entirely different reasons. His small construction company went under during the recession, and he and his wife liquidated their savings to pay bills. Their plans to retire in their 60s evaporated, as well.

Now he’s working toward his teaching credentials, hoping to find a full-time job as a high school government teacher. “Teaching is my retirement,” he said.

In huge numbers, members of the baby boom generation – born from 1946 through 1964 – tell researchers that they don’t plan to retire. In one recent AARP survey, nearly 70 percent of baby boomers reported they intend to work past the traditional retirement age of 65.

Those numbers have given rise to a fair amount of happy talk about how this generation is poised to reinvent retirement. Yet the retirement picture, like so much else for the nation’s 78 million graying baby boomers, is complex.

On the one hand, baby boomers like to work: Despite a generational stereotype portraying them as free spirits who reject tradition, boomers in the prime of their working years have enthusiastically embraced the work ethic.

But it’s also true that, with the death of traditional company pensions and more recently the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the baby boom generation in many ways has no choice but to redefine what retirement means.

Many would leave the daily grind of jobs if they could. But financial obligations to aging parents and grown children, as well as financial burdens left by the recession, have combined to make many boomers’ retirement prospects more difficult.

“The reason that older participation in the workforce increased has nothing to do with the health and well-being of people that age,” said social critic Susan Jacoby, author of “Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age.” “It’s an economic need.”

The average retirement age in the United States hit a low of 62 in the mid-1990s; today, it is 64 and climbing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Seniors’ portion of the workforce has risen as well. By 2020, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, baby boomers will account for more than 25 percent of the workforce, up from 16 percent today.

What most baby boomers face is far from their parents’ version of retirement, which began early and has lasted for many decades’ worth of bridge games and golf excursions.

“Benefits for retirement have been declining in the private sector,” said Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget Project, “and now the public sector is following suit.”

“Everyone I know is terrified of outliving their money,” said AARP’s national jobs expert Kerry Hannon.