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Preusser at Work
EDITOR CHARLEY PREUSSER, an older worker, is shown at his desk in the offices of the Crawford County Inde-pendent & Kickapoo Scout.

GAYS MILLS - With the current full employment economy and the very large number of baby boomers reaching retirement age, there seems to be a growth in people working after 65.

A review of some interesting statistics on the subject of older workers and some interviews on the subject with some local employers helped to shed some light on the situation.

The fastest-growing segment of the American workforce is among employees age 65 and older, according to a recent CNBC story. The reasons are many. Over the past decade, real wage growth has stagnated, pensions have disappeared, workers are delaying claiming Social Security benefits to maximize payouts, and lifespans are longer, leaving seniors worried they will burn through their retirement savings way too soon.

There are currently 40 million Americans age 50 and older who are working, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The percentage of retirement-age Americans in the labor force has doubled since 1985, from its all-time low of 10 percent in January of that year to 20 percent in February 2019, according to recently released data from the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

To understand who is continuing to work and why, ‘United Income’ gathered data on retirement-age Americans’ incomes, health, and activities from the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Centers for Disease Control, finding: 

• College-educated adults are the fastest growing workforce segment among retirement-age adults, pushing up incomes for older workers.The share of adults that are 65 years or older and working that have at least a college degree increased from 25 percent in 1985 to 53 percent in 2019. This pushed up the average real income of retirement-age workers by 63 percent during this time period, from $48,000 to $78,000. 

• Improved health has been a key driver of this increase in labor force participation.Of Americans aged 65 or older and working or looking for work, 78 percent report being in good health or better, up from 73 percent in 1997 and 69 percent in 1985. As a result, more retirement-age people can work: 77 percent feel no limitations in the kind of work they can do, compared with 71 percent in 1997.

Americans 55 and over made up about half of all employment gains in 2018, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by The Liscio Report, a research publication for investors.

Of the 2.9 million new jobs recorded by the U.S. Labor Department’s survey of households last year, 1.4 million were taken by people 55 and over. And in December,39.2 percent of Americans in that age group were working, the largest portion since 1961, according to the monthly employment report the labor department released earlier this year.

Among the factors behind the numbers: Older people want to work longer. The low, 3.9 percent unemployment rate provides them more opportunities as businesses struggle to find qualified job candidates. And lots of workers are simply aging into the 55-and-older bracket, while many prime age-Americans remain sidelined.

What does this surge of older workers mean locally? The Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout asked three of the larger Gays Mills-based employers (BAPI, Sunrise Orchards and the North Crawford School District) for their thoughts on the subject of older workers. It’s pretty easy to summarize their response as positive toward employing older workers.

“I like the older workers,” said Ritchie Stevenson, the owner of Building Automation Products Incorporated (BAPI).

Stevenson estimated that about dozen of the company’s workers were over 65. He, like the others interviewed for this story, pointed out that he could only estimate the number because he did not know the exact ages of the workers. However, 12 workers would be about 10 percent of the 130 people employed by BAPI.

Most of BAPI’s older workers worked in production and came to BAPI after retiring from a job elsewhere.

“They’re typically looking for something less stressful,” Ritchie said. “Many want to let go a bit after facing the stress of the front office rat race.”

Stevens said he found the older workers provided a lot to the company.

“I find they are reliable , resourceful and smart,” the owner of the local company noted. “Their past experience is often helpful to the younger workers. They’re more mature. They’ve come through the drama at this point.

“We really like hiring them,” Stevenson said. “ We will absolutely hire older workers. We’re always hiring.

“They’re reliable,” the local business owner explained. “If they tell you they want part-time and they get the hours, you can count on it–they’ll be there. Tat’s important in our business. They tend to have excellent attendance.

“We recruit across all market segments, Stevenson explained. “We get kids right out of high school and out of technical college. We get people with 10 or 12 years of previous experience and we get retired and part-tome workers.”

Although 10 percent of BAPI’s workforce is over 65, none have aged through the young company. They have all come to it form elsewhere. BAPI’s longest serving employed started with the company when he was 19 and is now in his early 40s. The next longest serving employee is in hi smid-40s and has worked for the company for 17 years. However, in another 20 to 30 years BAPI may have its own employees working past retirement age.

Stevenson noted the trend to older workers locally and across the nation is statistically explainable. 

“Look at the demographics with the baby boomers,” the BAPI owner said.

“They’re the biggest population group so it will grow until the baby boomers stop being there. It’s demographics. It’s statistical.”

Perhaps, but it seems BAPI Like others is currently  more than happy to fill some positions with older workers and what they bring to the job.

Sunrise Orchard, another major local employer, also has a rather positive view of older workers. How positive? Well, Sandy Jeffers, a manager in the office of Sunrise qualifies as older worker, according Alan Teach, an orchard owner. 

“Sandy does a fantastic job for us,” Teach says of the veteran manager.

However, Jeffers is far from the only older worker employed by Sunrise. They are scattered throughout the operation from field crew to the packing she and sales room.

“We have none in the field right now, but that will change the fall when the harvest starts,” Teach said. He expects in about a month, there will be older workers, both local and migrant, picking apples–there always are. Also, there are several tractor drivers returning that also fall into he older worker category. Then, there’s the packing line, salesroom and bakery–all have older workers in the mix.

“Age is not a condition of employment,” Teach emphasized. “We employ people to do the job. We don’t look at how old they are.”

An example might be the older Sunrise tractor drivers.

“They do a great job for us,” Teach said of the older tractor drivers. “They’re very careful with the equipment and that’s important.”

This year an older Employee will return to the orchard’s bakery after taking a couple of years off to care for another person, according to Teach. He said he is “thrilled” to get her back.

“Look older workers work efficiently, safely and carefully,” Teach said. “What they may start to lack physically as they age, they make up for with a little more efficiency.”

Alan Teach said the orchard always employed older workers and recalled his own experience while in high school, working with Eddie Rayner, his grandfather’s hired man.

“I learned the history of the orchard working with Eddie,” teach recalled fondly. He said Rayner grew up in a different era of much harder work-doing hay by hand for instance.

In the early days, the orchard was mowed once a year by men like Rayner with scythes. You have to thin Eddie Rayner made quite the older worker.

Facing the start of the apple harvest in a month, Teach is very much looking for workers.

“There are lots of opportunities to work,” Teach confirmed. Anyone that wants to work should come and fill out an application. We do not ask a person’s. We hope it appeals to older workers and we’d love to have them.