Arno Zwillenberg is well into the golden years of his life.
Yet at 91, he’s looking for a job and taking classes to make himself more attractive to a potential employer.
His monthly Social Security check of about $1,400 just about pays the bills, including an occasional trip to Wendy’s for his favorite chicken sandwich. But it doesn’t stretch to cover trips to visit family afar or other extras.
“Being the real cheapskate that I am, I can just about make it,” said Zwillenberg, who lives with his cat, Pumpkin, in a Dallas townhome.
He is one of a growing number of 60-somethings to 90-somethings who are returning to the labor force or delaying retirement indefinitely for financial and other reasons.
Some seniors have seen their savings shrink after the 2007-08 financial crisis and ensuing recession or as a result of a major health expense. Others need a little extra income or want to remain mentally, physically and socially agile. For many, it’s a combination of factors.
“We have three people in their 90s who have had to return to work for financial reasons,” said Allison Harding, director of career employment services at Jewish Family Service in Dallas. “It’s a phenomenon that really is devastating.”
Retirement at 65 is no longer the goal for many people.
“I’ll never retire, but work until I’m too sick or die” is what nearly half of middle-class Americans over 60 told Wells Fargo in a recent survey because they won’t have saved enough money.
“We look at 75 as the new 65,” said Claire Turner, director of senior employment for the Senior Source in Dallas.
The recession and slow recovery have hit older workers particularly hard.
Although the unemployment rate for people 65 and older is about 2 percent lower than the rate for all age groups, out-of-work older workers tend to stay unemployed longer and, if they find a job, they often take a cut in pay and hours.
Nearly 8 million people 65 and older worked or looked for a job last year, and the percentage has risen in the past seven years.
The labor force participation rate for all other age groups has fallen or was flat, according to the Dallas Morning News’ analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
“That’s pretty striking,” said Nathaniel Karp, chief U.S. economist for the bank BBVA Compass. “For me, as an economist, it’s hard to disassociate this from sadness. I think of my grandmother.”
The Senior Source’s Turner sees many seniors living on Social Security benefits of less than $1,000 a month, and watches them struggle with rising grocery bills and fluctuating gas prices.
“About six months or a year after retirement, a lot of people come back and say they’re concerned about making ends meet,” she said.