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Working Past Retirement Age


About 1 in 4 older Americans are working during their so-called retirement years. Back in the early '90s, it was less than half that. In fact, people 65 and older are the fastest-growing group of workers in the country. NPR's Ina Jaffe covers aging, and this week, she's been reporting on the new realities of work and retirement. One of those new realities - older adults are increasingly opting out of retirement altogether.

BOB OROZCO: Up, up, one.


OROZCO: Three.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: This is not a military drill. It's an exercise class for older adults at a Southern California YMCA. And there's no doubt who's in charge.

OROZCO: Heels up. Heels up. One.


OROZCO: Three.


JAFFE: Fitness instructor Bob Orozco guides a group of 40 through a series of moves that has them in constant motion for close to an hour. He's white-haired and wiry and does every move he asks his students to do.

OROZCO: Now jump.

JAFFE: And since he leads 11 classes a week, it's no wonder he's in good shape. At the age of 89, Orozco is older than most of the people he teaches, like 68-year-old Steve Fischer.

STEVE FISCHER: I feel if Bob can get up here at his age and then take the time and patience with all of us, then I'd better get myself down here. And if I'm not here, he's calling to find out where I've been and how I'm feeling.

KELLY KNEUBUHL: Bob is legendary down here.

JAFFE: Down here is the Laguna Niguel branch of the Orange County YMCA. Kelly Kneubuhl is the executive director.

KNEUBUHL: What draws people here and what keeps people here is Bob's enthusiasm.

JAFFE: Orozco was a little kid when he began his relationship with the Y. He grew up poor during the Depression in Johnstown, Pa. But he got a free YMCA membership after a local charity named him a worthy boy. He says it changed his life.

FISCHER: I learned to swim at the Y when I was 8. Then I just transferred from the water to the gym and eventually became a YMCA director.

JAFFE: Over the years, Orozco had one job after another with the YMCA in Rochester, N.Y., and with the national organization, so he can afford to stop working. In fact, 35 years ago, he moved to Southern California so he could retire someplace where the weather was good. Only he didn't retire.

OROZCO: I probably will work until something stops me. My wife's basically saying, when am I going to give up this? When am I going to give up that? And I said, well, I'm thinking about it.

JAFFE: But no matter how much he thinks, retirement is something he just can't quite picture.

OROZCO: You know, if I retired, I really don't know what I would be doing with myself. And as long as I'm capable, I want to be able to be a contribution and not a slug.

JAFFE: He's got company. About 1 in 4 American workers say they don't plan to retire ever. More than a third of them do stop working earlier than they planned to for reasons of health or layoffs or age discrimination. Still, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that for the next few years, the percentage of older adults in the workforce will continue to grow, especially those aged 75 and more.

PAUL IRVING: There's an increasing number of older people kind of not buying into the traditional retirement narrative that the only thing that older age means is, you know, going to a beach someplace and playing shuffleboard.

JAFFE: That's Paul Irving. He chairs the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging.

IRVING: More and more people are looking for ongoing challenge and purpose and the opportunity to continue to contribute.

JAFFE: Though in an AARP survey, a need for money was the top reason older workers were still on the job. But liking work was almost as popular. And Bob Orozco finds meaning in what he does.

OROZCO: Saying says that God gave you life. What are you going to do with that life? And what you do with that life is your gift back to him. What I was given when I was a child - I have picked up that kind of a mission of giving back.

JAFFE: A mission Orozco has been fulfilling for decades, so why stop now?

OROZCO: Good job. Good job. All right.

JAFFE: Ina Jaffe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."