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Wage earners

Retirement dreams are filled with golfing, travel and … work?

For many people over 65, work is as much a part of retirement as trips to Arizona and Florida.

In Nevada County, spiraling living costs make work a necessity for Joan Gilbert.

Gilbert, 69, works an average of 21 to 26 hours a week at SPD Market’s post office in Nevada City. She works to stay in Nevada County, where she has lived since 1956, and to maintain her own home and independence. Gilbert has also worked at Hollywood Sweets, Express Mart and the Orange Duck.

A self-described “workaholic” and “fighter,” Gilbert said she’s just glad to have her independence and doesn’t really mind working.

That’s despite a back injury that led her to the Auburn Pain Clinic to teach her how to deal with the pain.

Her husband, Len, died 16 years ago after owning an insurance agency. Gilbert went through the proceeds from her husband’s life insurance policy while she battled with the Social Security Administration over his benefits in the late 1980s.

Without much work history, she would have received little in the way of Social Security benefits.

Gilbert said she works to pay her property taxes, mortgage, insurance, car repairs and medical bills from a bout with cancer.

She said living costs are increasing in Nevada County, but she wants to stay here.

Gilbert gets benefits that go beyond a paycheck. The job allows her to be with other people instead of alone.

“I just feel really fortunate that I’m able to work,” said Gilbert. “I like being around people.”

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that people over age 65 comprised 12.8 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2000, up from 12.3 percent in 1999.

The small increase occurred despite a change in Social Security in 1999 that allows recipients to work without having their benefits reduced.

Gilbert said she sees a lot of people her age working. The ones she has talked to say they work to stay in their homes and put food on the table.

Gilbert said employers have told her that seniors don’t call in sick. Gilbert said she got calls to fill in “when the kids didn’t show up.”

Dorothy Gayeske, 79, an accounts clerk at the Grass Valley Senior Center on McCourtney Road, said she works to keep active and because she can use the income.

She and her husband retired early, meaning their funds have to last longer, while the cost of living keeps going up. While her husband invested a lot when he was working, it didn’t keep up with the cost of living, said Gayeske.

They went scuba diving in Mexico during their early retirement. She hasn’t given up her love of travel, and one of the reasons she works is to pay for trips.

Deborah Russell, AARP’s manager for economic security and work issues, said there are two trends that fuel working in retirement.

People are living longer, meaning they need more money to fund longer retirements. And some miss the interaction at work.

“Some of it will be because they have to work, and some of it because they want to work,” said Russell.

While it’s not hard to find retirement-aged people in what are typically low-wage jobs in retail or fast-food restaurants, Russell said she would not say low-wage jobs are the norm. The kind of wages people over 65 make depends on their skills and work experience.

“I wouldn’t broad brush any particular industry,” said Russell. “There are many industries people over 65 are looking at – hospitals, services, management – I think it’s across the board.”

But there is a push for retail companies to reach into the senior community to tap into a part-time labor pool, said Russell, and low-wage jobs are more attainable sometimes.

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