The notion of retirement in the United States has shifted in recent years. Americans are working later in life, and retirement no longer represents a complete departure from the workforce. To explore these issues, The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, has undertaken a series of major studies on older Americans’ experiences in the late phases of their careers, their preparations for retirement, and the realities of retired life in the United States. The project also includes a journalism fellowship where mid-career journalists develop the analytical research skills needed to create a series of news reports dealing with the economics of the aging workforce in the United States to be distributed by AP to its global audience.
The first two Working Longer studies, conducted in 2013 and 2016, explored the modern concept of retirement, anxieties about retirement planning, and the factors older Americans consider when making decisions about the transition to retirement. The 2017 study offers new insights on the experiences of Americans age 50 and older with respect to unemployment, saving enough for retirement, and needing to withdraw money from retirement accounts prior to retiring, as well as the snowball effect of intergenerational wealth on financial security during retirement. Additional analysis provides a rare glimpse into the significant and lasting impact of incarceration on older Americans’ work and retirement experiences.
The survey results reveal a modern form of retirement that doesn’t happen all at once but instead comes in phases. While most Americans in this age group can easily be classified as either working or retired, 1 in 10 fall somewhere in the middle, reporting that they have retired but are either still working or looking for work. The findings suggest that work behaviors and retirement attitudes shift depending on where one is situated on the spectrum of retirement.
Taken together, these results provide insights for employers navigating new terrain as they face an older workforce, and for policymakers grappling with how to help older Americans with the transition into retirement.
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