By now, we all know how difficult retirement is — especially the planning part. But there is a group of people who believe they have a solution: Never retire.
These folks, both the Boomers and the Greatest Generation, say they will never retire, because they would be bored to death and their brains would just shrivel up. (Maybe they didn’t use those words, but you get the point.)
Take comedian Marty Allen. Boomers may remember him from the old Ed Sullivan Show on CBS or the old Match Game on NBC. In fact, Allen was on that fateful show in 1964 when Sullivan introduced the Beatles to America.
Well, Allen is 92, and he’s still performing stand-up comedy in Vegas with his wife of 30 years, Karon Kate Blackwell. His advice for people getting ready to retire: Don’t.
“I don’t see retiring,” he says. “What do you do? Why would you retire as long as you can walk or talk? I just don’t see retiring. I think it slows you down in life. As long as you are able to do things, keep doing them. Like I’m doing. I’m writing a book about my life. I collect art; I do comedy; I’m a reader. I do different things. It helps mentally and physically. It adds to your life.
“I actually love people, and in my heart, I love entertaining,” says Allen. “Where else would you go?”
Then there’s Arthur E. Imperatore Sr., founder and CEO of New York Waterway. He is up every morning at 5 a.m. He’s usually at his desk by 10. He has three children, nine grandchildren and a 70-year-old stepson who is chairman of the board of the New York City ferry company.
Oh, and Imperatore is 88 years old and refuses to retire.
“I tried some versions of partial retirement, and I decided I’d better go to work and make a living and keep my nose to the grindstone,” he said. “It keeps me younger and keeps by brain from atrophy.”
“I really believe that retirement is debilitating, if not physically, certainly emotionally,” says Imperatore. “I’ve had plenty of problems trying to get here in the morning. I feel old and decrepit, and I hit the doorway to the terminal, and I get fired up.”
Marc Freedman, CEO and founder of Encore.org — a website dedicated to helping those near retirement age embark on “second acts,” or encore careers, at non-profits — says many people today embark on multiple careers.
“Increasingly, we’ll see people take breaks throughout the life course and have multiple working chapters, including ones that begin in the 70s and beyond,” says Freedman. “It doesn’t make sense to work like a maniac for 30 years and be put out to pasture for a period that could be that long in duration.”
“People want to continue contributing,” he says. “I think we were tying to change the culture to support longer contributing lives and better pathways for people to keep contributing.”
Stewart Wade, a real estate agent in Oahu, Hawaii, shows up for work only once a week these days, but his bosses understand. He’s 99 years old and works for Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties in Oahu, where he takes a swim in the ocean at least two or three times a week. And he still sells homes.
“I try to do it three times a week,” he says. “I swim from 15 to 30 minutes in the ocean. It’s so much better to swim there than in pools.”
They aren’t Baby Boomers. They are part of the Greatest Generation. But what they share with a growing number of Boomers is that they utterly refuse to stop working.
Sara Rix, senior strategic policy adviser with the economics team of the AARP Public Policy Institute, says the number of people who continue to work in their retirement years is growing, and that’s good for them physically, mentally and financially. And it’s good for the economy. She says the percentage of people in the 65- to 69-year-old age group who are still in the workforce has increased from 18.4% in 1985 to 32.2% last year. The number of people 70 to 75 in the workforce is also increasing.
“People are pushing back the date of retirement, for a lot of reasons, including financial,” she says. “People are living longer. While not everybody living longer is living healthy longer, many are. They want to remain active, and still feel young. They have contributions to make.”
“You can’t afford to work for 30 years and then support yourself for that long in a life of leisure,” says Freedman.
Rix says when older workers are asked why they continue working, they give social and psychological reasons as often as financial. “For those who can, and who want to, it can be a really positive experience,” she says.
You won’t find any disagreement from Imperatore.
“My health is better, and so is my psyche,” he says. “My spirit is high. I think I have more diplomacy and more wisdom than I’ve ever had. Time brings that. I do a fair amount of reading and a fair amount of thinking. I’m very pragmatic.”
Harold Kaplan is now in his third career — fourth if you count the time he spent in the service. “I was retired for six weeks, but I wasn’t any good at it,” says the 75-year-old Connecticut physician.
The Yale Medical School graduate first went into the Air Force as a research internist working on the Apollo space program. After he left the service he went into gastroenterology — for 38 years. He retired in 2007 … or tried to. As he ratcheted down his practice, he ratcheted up his duties at a hospital as chief medical officer. He became vice president for medical affairs at MidState Medical Center in Meriden, Conn.
Kaplan retired from his administrative post in February of last year, and stayed retired only until March 15 of that year, when he was hired as associate professor at the Frank H. Netter School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University.
His wife of 52 years is 76 and continues to work as an adjunct admissions officer for Yale College.
And what about retirement?
“I don’t see the point,” says Kaplan. “The purpose of retirement is to stop doing what you have to do to start doing what you want to do. I’m already doing that. I’m just having a good time.”
Comedian Shelley Berman, 88, is retired, but only from the stage. He spent his so-called retirement writing a book of poetry, To Laughter With Questions. He says he will write another book as soon as he can find the time. He and his wife of 66 years, Sarah, are busy. Among other things, they volunteer at the Motion Picture & Television Fund.
He’s another one who does not recommend retiring to a life of leisure. His advice to others: “I can’t advise others. I think I’d be somewhere out of my realm. But I can only advise my wife, and she tells me to go to hell.”
Still, he added: “We’re doing everything to be busy volunteers. The truth is that it’s (retiring) wasting the rest of your time. Don’t do that. What you gotta do is keep your muscles going. I wouldn’t suggest that you quit. What are you going to do, sit? I’m not good at that. I have an itchy bottom.”