Some seniors working past retirement age

Every morning Robert McDonald gets up just after 4 a.m. in order to get to work as a delivery truck driver in downtown Edmonton for 6:30. Up until a year and a half ago, he worked as a pilot for a charter airline company until he lost his job suddenly and had to look for work elsewhere.

As a senior citizen, McDonald and his wife Lynne, who works part-time, are part of a small group of people who are working well into retirement age, whether by choice or necessity.

For the McDonalds, working past retirement age is a necessity.

When his job as a pilot disappeared, McDonald said the couple was close to paying off their condominium in St. Albert.

"Our plan was we would have had it paid off if I had had my job for another two years."

Feeling they didn't have enough saved for retirement, the couple decided to sell their condo and invest the money.
"We're hoping that will grow long enough and that we can work long enough that it will be enough to retire," said Lynne, who works part-time as a substitute teacher.

"That and win the lottery," added McDonald.

In the meantime, the couple now rent a condominium and continue to work until they feel their retirement savings are adequate.

But Lynne says she worries about what might happen when they are no longer able to work.

Lynne, who has been divorced twice, said she didn't save enough for retirement when she was younger because she wasn't able to.

"Early on, the idea of RRSPs and that kind of thing, it just wasn't out there very much," she said.

"We struggled for years just to survive."

While McDonald did contribute to a pension at one of his previous jobs, that money had to be used in the late 1980s when a recession hit and wiped out all of his savings.
"The money had to be used. It was gone. You couldn't recover," he said.

The issue of how retirees in Alberta will support themselves is becoming critical, according to the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL). It points out in its 2009 report, The Looming Crisis in Retirement Incomes, that Albertans have the lowest retirement savings in Canada, partly due to inadequate pension plans.

According to the AFL, pension coverage has been in decline since the 1990s and only 33 per cent of workers in Alberta are covered by a Registered Pension Plan (RPP).

And with a large number of baby boomers approaching retirement age, the AFL says there could be a serious rise in poverty rates among senior citizens.

But Dr. Norah Keating, a professor at the University of Alberta's Department of Human Ecology, doesn't agree.
"One of the big policy successes that Canada has is that we have an income security system for older adults that has actually reduced the rate of poverty and it's gone down consistently over the last 30 to 40 years," Keating said last week.

"There's good news here. We have an old age security pension, which is a universal pension for older adults and then the Canada Pension, which people who have been in the labour force can get after retirement," said Keating.
"At a national level, looming crisis in terms of retirement income, I don't see it."

Keating does point out that the recent recession has had an impact on retirement incomes, especially for those who were already retired when the recession hit.

"People who have investments that they're counting on to augment their retirement incomes often have lost a huge amount of equity in that downturn in the market," she said.
"They have no way to recoup lost equity. For them, if they need to live off dividends and interest off the investment, many of them saw their incomes go down substantially."

The Alberta government has also taken note of the issue of more seniors working into their retirement years.

One of the policy directions included in its Aging Policy Framework, released last fall, says Albertans who choose to continue working in their senior years must be adequately supported. Specifically, it calls for age-friendly employment policies and practices, as well as resources for employers who oversee a multigenerational workforce.

Keating says seniors who continue to work past retirement and also those who wish to re-enter the workforce do face challenges.

"It can be very difficult, primarily because of your age," she said.

"It is a barrier in some cases if you need a lot of physical stamina to do a job, but in many cases, it's not a matter of age but experience and problem-solving skills."
With longer life expectancies pushing the age of retirement up past 65, Keating said people increasingly will be retired for as long as they were in the workforce.

"You could easily be retired for 30 years, it's a really long time to have to organize your finances and think about how far they have to stretch," she said.

"As we move past this assumption that people are retired at age 65, we'll probably see more flexibility, more people in the labour force as they get older."

St. Albert Gazette, Sat Feb 5 2011

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