More jobs for seniors, but not quite "golden years"

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For 30 years Keith Verbosky was a tool and die maker for General Motors (GM), earning $100,000 a year when he retired. These days he drives a school bus ... for a quarter of that salary. Verbosky is the classic case of someone with an “old person job.”

But the good news for Americans of a certain age -- 50 and above -- is that the job outlook is “less bleak” for people like him, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. So what’s the bad news? These jobs usually pay much less.

“I know I’ll never make the kind of money I once earned at GM, the amount that allowed me to raise a family of six children,” said Verbosky, who at age 66 sports a full head of graying hair.

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But he also knows that he doesn’t have to. Verbosky left GM 10 years ago with his buyout tucked in his pocket -- fortunate for him because the carmaker went into bankruptcy shortly afterward. His problem was that he still had a daughter in college, and a home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, needed to be paid for. So he immediately obtained his commercial driver’s license and began driving a bus.

Verbosky is typical of the way the senior workforce is evolving. During the last century, workers 55 and older who were let go from their jobs could find only a relatively few “old person” occupations alongside other gray-haired employees.

“Now, more and more workers don’t have to give up,” said Matthew Rutledge, one of the Boston College study’s three authors. “That means you should delay taking Social Security for as long as you can, because you’ll never get a better annuity than Social Security!”

But the outlook isn’t all sunny for seniors, or even junior seniors -- those still in their 50s. Those who find it necessary to switch jobs in later life may earn less and find less challenge in their new job.

On the bright side: The older person’s new job is probably going to be less taxing, although the hours may be equally long, such as night watchman or retail clerk (see below for a list of jobs for seniors).

“Many may be looking for a “bridge job,” said Rutledge, “a part-time job to see them into retirement -- but without the stress.”

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Others may not be so fortunate and could find themselves stressed out by whether they’ll have enough money to get through retirement. “It is possible that American seniors enjoy working more than their counterparts in Europe and Canada,” said a study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). But it’s equally possible that they’re working because they have to.

The U.S. has a “high senior poverty rate,” and the pensions that workers once had are being replaced by “inadequate 401k’s,” said the EPI. And even many of those vanished somewhat during the last recession. That may be why 30 percent of this country’s 65- to 69-year-olds are still at the daily grind, compared with only 20 percent in other developed nations.

For those who still need to work, the fact that pensions have all but disappeared -- with the exception of public employees -- has one good effect when an older person is seeking a job. “The shift away from defined benefit pensions has eliminated one barrier to hiring older workers, because employers no longer face the burden of backloaded benefit(s),” said the study.

Another plus is that many older people are still working in management positions and so don’t have an aversion -- or may even see an advantage -- to hiring someone with a proven track record who shows up on time. Better-educated women are actually finding more opportunities, the study showed.

One last caveat: By its very nature, the study examined only people who got jobs, not those who were unable to. Therefore, it may provide a rosier picture of labor market prospects for older workers than really exists, which the study admitted.

As for Verbosky, he’s quite content to drive that school bus ... and attend the school’s athletic events -- on his own time, of course.

Occupations for older people:

Bus drivers

Crossing guards and bridge tenders

Dressmakers and seamstresses

Farmers (owners and tenants)

Guards, watchmen, doorkeepers

Messengers

Protective services

Retail sales clerks

Sales demonstrators, promoters and models

Taxi cab drivers and chauffeurs