Most of us say "thanks" without thinking.
Feb. 26--Delores Butler spent Wednesday night serving steaks, pasta dinners and bottles of Yuengling beer to customers at Ricardo's Restaurant.
The 76-year-old waitress has worked at the Erie landmark at 2112 East Lake Road for nearly 40 years.
Perry Duncan on Thursday morning began on-site construction of a concrete water fountain being built near the Music Express, a new ride at Waldameer Park & Water World.
Duncan, 70, has worked on maintenance and construction projects at the popular Millcreek Township amusement park for six decades.
Butler, of Lawrence Park Township, and Duncan, of Girard, are part of a rising trend nationwide in the number of people age 65 and older in the workforce.
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show the share of people 65 and up who are working increased to 16.1 percent in 2010 from 12.1 percent in 1990.
Nearly 6.5 million people 65 and older were in the U.S. labor force in 2010, the last year the census was counted. In 1990, that number was less than 3.8 million people.
Within the 65 and over population, 65- to 69-year-olds saw the largest change, escalating from 22 percent in 1990 to 31 percent in 2010.
Census Bureau analysts said there are several factors contributing to the soaring numbers of older workers.
"Financial concerns and the economy definitely would impact the decision," Braedyn Kromer, an analyst in the bureau's Labor Force Statistics Branch, said during a phone interview from the Census Bureau's headquarters in Washington, D.C. "People also have the ability to work because we're living longer, and jobs are not as physically demanding as they once were."
Kromer said he believes the number of people 65 and older in the labor force will continue to soar.
"It's hard to predict," she added. "But it certainly seems like a long-term trend."
The new census data, which factor in full-time and part-time workers, showed a greater uptick for women 65 and older.
Between 1990 and 2010, women 65 and older experienced a 4.1 percent increase in labor force participation, while women 16 to 64 experienced a 1.9 percent rise.
This compares with a 3.2 percent increase for men 65 and older and a 5.2 percent decline for men 16 to 64.
"I like the people who come in, the people I work with. It helps keep me feeling young," said Butler, the Ricardo's waitress.
Butler works part time at the restaurant two nights a week, and said she spends her earnings on her three grandchildren. Her house is paid for, and her monthly Social Security check goes toward bills, groceries and other basic needs.
"If I didn't work, I wouldn't know what to do with myself," Butler said.
"It's only two nights, but it fulfills my need to get out. Cleaning the house and watching TV only goes so far."
The new census data show 22.3 percent of city of Erie residents between the ages of 65 and 74, or 1,437 people, were working in 2010. There were no local numbers available to compare with 1990, analysts said.
In Erie County, 21.5 percent of the 65- to 74-year-old population, or 4,543 people, were in the labor force in 2010.
Joanne Homicz, 73, a local housing manager, said she abandoned thoughts of retirement after her husband died suddenly in 2007. The Erie woman said she returned to work part time for financial reasons.
"I have been blessed with good health enabling me to continue to work," Homicz said.
"I have found most times that folks that retire need to become active to prevent health issues. Seniors may be unable to get out as much during winters in our region, and can easily become shut-ins."
State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, of Millcreek Township, serves on the state's Aging and Adult Services Committee.
Bizzarro, D-3rd Dist., pointed at the nation's sluggish economy as the primary culprit for more older workers, and said the trend is spiking because average per capita family incomes have slumped over the past decade.
"This is very troubling," Bizzarro said. "People, especially older Americans, are living precariously. There's been no shortage of scaremongering on Social Security and other safety net issues. When you have a dysfunctional Congress ready to push the nation off the proverbial 'fiscal cliff,' is it any wonder that older citizens worry about outliving their incomes?"
There are more than 10,000 residents age 65 and older in the 3rd District, his aides said.
Of workers delaying retirement in 2011, 13 percent gave the reason of having inadequate finances or unable to afford to retire, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Six percent gave the reason of needing to make up for losses in the stock market.
"I don't see growing numbers of an older workforce dissipating anytime soon," Bizzarro added. "We all must pay better attention to working families and retirees. Our economy will only thrive when families can live and retire in dignity."
Wally Bunn, 73, works full-time in child development for the Millcreek Township School District. His wife, Daunice Bunn, 65, works part-time as a cashier at a local Lowe's.
Financial concerns, paying off the mortgage on their house, and having good health insurance are some of the reasons why the couple continues to work past traditional retirement age, Wally Bunn said.
But both still like working.
"I'm a people person. I enjoy the quietness at home, but I need the socialization of being in the workforce," Daunice Bunn said. "Wally and I like being productive. His energy level is higher when he's working."
Duncan, the head of construction maintenance at Waldameer, has spent the past week on a four-man crew building a new water fountain at the park. At age 70, he is 20 years older than the second-oldest guy on the crew, and 30 years older than the youngest worker.
Duncan works full time, which he said is about 50 hours a week during the winter and sometimes double those hours during the park's busy summer months.
"It's challenging, but enjoyable. I like working there, and I like what I do," Duncan said. "The cost of living is not going down. The price of fuel is not going down. As long as I have my health and can still do it, I'll keep going."
GERRY WEISS can be reached at 870-1884 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNweiss.
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