WOOSTER: Even at age 70, Ron Hustwit has no itch to retire.
He has taught philosophy full time at the College of Wooster for 46 years and, unlike many friends and colleagues who chose to retire long ago, he still enjoys going to work.
“I don’t have any days when I say I have to put in another day at the office,” he said.
Hustwit, who lives across the street from the college campus, is one of a growing number of seniors who are opting to remain in the work force.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the percentage of people 65 or older still working rose from 12.1 percent in 1990 to 16.1 percent in 2010, driven largely by women.
And the bureau’s latest American Community Survey report shows even higher numbers. The figure was 19 percent nationwide and 18 percent in Ohio.
The reasons are varied. Some seniors are doing it strictly for the money, knowing they don’t have enough saved to retire or they are worried that they’ll outlive their savings.
Others — like Hustwit — know they would miss the social interaction at work or they have no burning desire to take up a hobby such as golf or traveling.
Then there’s a less obvious reason. A growth in service and office jobs doesn’t require major physical labor, allowing seniors to work longer or even enter the work force later in life.
“People are living longer and they are healthier,” said Paul Magnus, vice president for work force development at Mature Services Inc., an Akron nonprofit that helps older workers find jobs. “To look at age 65 and think you have two decades left of active lifestyle, work is part of it.”
Make the sale
The topic is especially relevant given 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI’s decision last week to retire, said Harvey Sterns, director at the Institute for Life-Span Development and Gerontology at the University of Akron and author of the book Working Longer.
It’s the first papal resignation in 600 years.
Retiring at a younger age is a relatively new concept, experienced only by about the last two generations, he said. Before, most people worked until they died.
Sterns, who is 70 and still works full time, grew up in a family that owned a department store.
“We used to say in the Sterns family: You die in the aisle making the sale. But you first finish the sale,” he said.
While the trend of more seniors working is expected to continue, Sterns noted that many people have no intention of working longer than they have to.
“We have to remember that a lot of people don’t like their work,” he said. “Work is only there to get money to do the things you really want to do.”
During a recent jobs program at Mature Services, the Beacon Journal asked people — not all were over 65 — why they wanted to return to the work force.
The No. 1 answer involved money.
Some said they or their friends didn’t plan well enough for retirement. Or, because of the recession, they started raising their grandchildren and needed the income.
Another popular reason was social. They don’t want to sit at home alone. Some said people who live longer seem to have two things in common: They work as long as they can and they eat oatmeal every day.
“I like to keep working because it’s good for my brain,” said Victoria Anania of Akron. Anania, who would only say that she’s over 65, worked for years as a nurse and now wants to return to the work force.
“Age is just a number anyway. It’s how you feel inside,” she said.
Rose Schaffer, 85, of Norton, works part time at Akron Monument & Granite Co. in Akron. Each Monday, she comes into the office for several hours to keep the books, prepare invoices and answer the phone.
On other days, she works at home, spending an hour or so reading newspaper obituaries and sending condolence letters to potential customers.
“Work is good therapy,” she said. “I think that’s what has kept me young.”
Schaffer retired once, in 2000.
“I stayed home for about six months and I couldn’t stand it,” she said.
Women make up a rising percentage of seniors who work, according to the census.
Sterns, the UA gerontology professor, isn’t surprised. Women often enjoy the social interaction at work more than men, or they are forced to re-enter the work force after a divorce or staying home to raise a family, he said.
They also live longer than men. The life expectancy for women in the U.S. is 81, compared with 76 for men.
The latest American Community Survey report shows:
• There are 1.6 million Ohioans who are 65 or older. More than 285,000 are still working.
• Geauga County led the state with 25 percent of its seniors working. Delaware and Fayette counties were at 23 percent, and Champaign and Wayne were at 22 percent.
• The top urban county was Franklin at 21 percent. Hamilton was at 19 percent, while Cuyahoga, Lucas, Montgomery, Stark and Summit were tied at 17 percent. Mahoning was 14 percent.
• Wayne had the second-highest percentage of male seniors (25 percent) working, behind only 27 percent in Delaware.
• Madison County had the highest percentage of female seniors working at 17 percent. The highest percentage in the Akron area was Medina County at 15 percent.
Experts were at a loss to explain why Wayne would have more senior workers. Perhaps it’s due to the agricultural community, they said.
Why change it?
Hustwit, the Wooster college professor, admitted he’s afraid to retire. He fears he would miss the intellectual stimulation, friendships and reason to get out of the house each day. He also has no plan for what to do next.
“My picture of retirement is really just sitting around and wondering what I’m going to do,” he said.
His wife, Barb, 68, had no such hesitation. She retired seven years ago from her job as a student writing consultant at the college.
She loves retirement and wrote a book, Never Far from Home: Willa Cather, On Choosing Names from Frederick County, Virginia, for Her Literary Characters.
“I understand why he wants to continue working,” she said. “He still enjoys teaching and the challenge of it.”
Hustwit knows he won’t be able to work forever. He can’t imagine walking into the classroom at 80, but as long as his good health remains, he’ll keep teaching.
“My life is flourishing, and as good as it is, why change it?” he said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com. Beacon Journal staff writer Katie Byard contributed to this article.