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More Americans Postponing Retirement - 2003-09-23

A study shows that tough economic times are causing many Americans to rethink their retirement plans. A survey of more than 2,000 Americans near retirement age shows that more than two-thirds plan to work past the age of 65 and nearly half intend to work into their 70s and 80s. Most of those surveyed indicated they hoped to continue with their present job or find a similar one.

Jeffrey Love directs research for the American Association of Retired Persons, known as AARP, which conducted the survey. He says some Americans work past retirement age as a matter of choice, driven by dedication to their profession and a desire to stay active.

But Mr. Love says a growing number of older Americans fall into another category: people who would like to retire, but cannot afford to do so after suffering steep losses in the stock market.

"In the last couple of years, there have been some serious downturns in the [U.S. stock] market," he said. "The losses they [people near or at retirement age] have incurred is one of the reasons for changing expectations for retirement, whether that be what they will do in retirement or when they retire."

Mr. Love says the current trend constitutes a reversal from the late 1990s and what was then a booming U.S. stock market. He says, just three years ago, millions of Americans contemplated early retirement, having accumulated wealth they deemed sufficient to carry them through their "golden years."

But times have changed, and the stock market has only begun to rise again after two consecutive down years. AARP researcher Jeffrey Love says adverse market conditions hit older Americans far harder than the young.

"If you are 25 years old and the stock market goes south [falls], you have a long time to make it up [recover]," he explained. "If you are 60 years old and lose half of your assets, it may take you 10 years to rebuild those assets to where they were before you lost them. That means you will be 70 years old before you can retire as adequately as you thought you could [before suffering losses]."

The Labor Department projects that nearly 20 percent of America's workforce will be over the age of 55 by the year 2010. The AARP's Jeffrey Love says businesses will benefit from the availability of seasoned, experienced workers but must make sure the benefits they offer match the needs of an aging workforce.