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For many, retirement may be closer than it appears

By Janet Kidd Stewart

Chicago Tribune, February 27, 2014

Message from retirees to near-retirees: You're closer than you think.

Pre-retirees expected to retire significantly later than retirees did, according to a new survey of 2,200 adults ages 45 to 80.

Pre-retirees' median projected retirement age was 65, while retirees' median age was 58, according to the survey for the Society of Actuaries by research firm Greenwald & Associates.

And while 6 in 10 pre-retirees expect to retire gradually by continuing to work a reduced schedule, just 2 in 10 did that, said Mathew Greenwald, president of the firm.

To be sure, some of the disparity can be attributed to the economic realities of the two groups.

Retirees likely had greater access to defined benefit pensions, suggesting they had more resources to retire younger.

And it's more common today to find companies that cater to employees who want reduced schedules, so the pre-retirees may have more access to part-time work than did their retired counterparts.

Even so, experts say, plenty of pre-retirees who thought they were going to work much longer get blindsided into retirement before they're ready.

"People don't work as long as they want to," said Ruth Finkelstein, senior vice president of policy and planning for The New York Academy of Medicine, which runs the Age Smart Employer Award program, designed to promote best practices in hiring older workers.

"We know that people over 55 who lose a job stay unemployed the longest of anybody."

"Before the economic downturn, employers were beginning to recognize they had this big cohort of aging workers and were starting to think about brain drain issues," she said. "Then when unemployment increased, it gave employers the sense that no one was going to leave."

Now, she said, the pendulum may be swinging back a bit.

"We're just emerging into a new understanding, where some employers, like the ones we honored with this award, understand the relationship between age and employment in a different way and can see the benefit of having multiple generations in their workforces."

The winners were all New York-area employers, and they included Pfizer Inc., the huge pharmaceutical company with employees worldwide. The company maintains a website dedicated to healthy aging issues at getold.com.

Judging from the disparity in perception and reality in the survey, there's plenty of work to do for employers and workers.

Nearly half of pre-retirees said a financial incentive would motivate them to retire, and 26 percent of retirees said it did, according to the survey.

And 42 percent of pre-retirees said they expected that a health issue would prompt their decision to retire, while 21 percent of retirees said that happened to them.

Interestingly, the two groups were almost spot on when it came to the effect of the overall workplace climate as a precursor to retirement.

Among pre-retirees, 39 percent said a work environment that was no longer comfortable for them would prompt retirement, and 34 percent of retirees cited that as a factor in why they left.

What's different for people getting close to retirement today, said Finkelstein, 59, is a greater sense of moving toward something after retirement.

"One of the things that I've seen is people's belief that there's a new chapter coming in their life. A new occupation, a new business opportunity, a new way to live," she said. "I think that when my generation talks about retiring, we're not retiring from ever working, we're just retiring from this job."

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