Over 75, not retired and loving it

Helen Ullman, 79, of Massapequa Park, a sales Helen Ullman, 79, of Massapequa Park, a sales associate at a handbag and gift boutique in Oceanside, helps customers choose gifts. (Aug. 28, 2013) Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

advertisement | advertise on newsday

For Clemente DiMonda, Mondays are great because they mark the start of another workweek. By the time he arrives at his Manhattan barbershop, this native of Naples, Italy, who makes his home in Lynbrook, says he's singing "O Sole Mio."

And why not? DiMonda is a barber to the elite. Every day, a private car service delivers him to and from his job. His posh workspace is on the eighth floor of fashion designer Ralph Lauren's corporate headquarters; a space provided by his famous patron, rent free. (Ryan J. Lally, the designer's spokesman, confirmed that DiMonda is Lauren's barber but said Lauren was unavailable for comment because he is busy with Fashion Week.) By 8 a.m., DiMonda is wielding his shears on the captains of industry and top menswear designers who fork over $60 to $150 for the service.

DiMonda, 80, has no plans to retire, and he is among a growing number of Long Islanders, age 75 or older, who are still on the job.

In 2011, the number of workers in that age group from Nassau and Suffolk who were employed part- or full-time was 14,268, compared to 10,827, in 2000 -- an increase of 32 percent, according to the New York State Department of Labor. And statisticians say the proportion of mature workers shows no sign of leveling off. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of people 75 or older who continue to work is expected to climb by 67.7 percent, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many are working past the traditional retirement age of 65 due to the declining investment value of their retirement funds, and many others are choosing to stay on the job for personal fulfillment. While most will work in surroundings that are more run-of-the-mill than top-of-the-line, like DiMonda's barbershop, they're still content to be employed beyond retirement age.

 

At home at Home Depot

Pasquale Carpentieri, 84, is a greeter at The Home Depot in Freeport. Before donning his orange work apron, Carpentieri worked in the wholesale costume jewelry business for years. He retired from that job in 1996 at age 68. There's no car service to pick him up, but he is thrilled to drive to work, where he welcomes shoppers from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. If he's not helping customers navigate the paint or hardware aisles, he's directing shoppers to a shorter checkout line or helping them locate a cart.

Carpentieri and DiMonda work five days a week, but there also are many older workers who opt for part-time schedules.

One or two days a week, Helen Ullman, 79, is on the selling floor of an Oceanside accessories and gift boutique, familiarizing customers with a trendy handbag or cosmetics case, ringing up a sale or restocking store shelves. Ullman, a widow living on a fixed income, works for the paycheck but she says she also loves the social aspect of her job. "You get dressed and get out of the house and [are] around people," says the Massapequa Park grandmother of seven. "To me, this is a very important thing. It motivates you, so you don't sit around and think about your troubles."

Carpentieri says he has been working for 75 years -- ever since he loaded crates onto his father's fruit-and-vegetable truck when he was 9 years old. After retiring, and before taking The Home Depot job, he stayed home for a couple of days to "relax and watch a little television -- and went bonkers," recalls Carpentieri, a Lynbrook grandfather of 13. "When you work, you think, and when you think, you're living," he says. "Without work, I'd be depressed and be like a vegetable."

That may be the case for Carpentieri, but experts who specialize in the care of the elderly say retirement isn't necessarily harmful to health.

"When we see people who seem to be aging the best, they are the ones who remain active, either working or engaged in volunteer work or embracing their retirement as an opportunity to do the things they wished they would have been able to do before, such as traveling or learning a new language," says Dr. Audrey Chun, associate professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She is also the medical director of the Martha Stewart Center for Living in Manhattan, which specializes in treating health problems of the elderly.

 

Life's meaning

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Dr. Jeffrey S. Trilling, associate professor and chairman of the department of family medicine at Stony Brook School of Medicine and a geriatrician, agrees and adds that men, more than women, feel they are defined by their work. He pointed to patients who "identified with their executive titles so much that they became depressed and lost their reason for being" when they turned in their employee ID badges. "It's not the job that keeps us alive" in retirement, he says, "it's the sense that you have meaning in your life."

As older people become a larger share of the population, many of them are choosing to delay retirement. In a poll of more than 3,000 "business professionals" by retiredbrains .com, an information resource and job board for people 50 or older, more than 86 percent plan to postpone retirement and hang onto a long-term job or career or work part-time.

But often retirees or older workers who have been laid off and want to work are unable to get hired.

Though Ullman has been employed at the Oceanside boutique for two years, she says she had a tough time finding work after being laid off from another job in 2010. Armed with 35 years of retail experience and multiple resumes, she applied to several boutiques. "They would say they needed help, and I would call and follow up," she recalls. "Not everyone wants to hire someone at my age, even though I can run circles around some of those young chicks."

People in her generation have much to offer, she says. "Older people are dependable. You don't have that with young kids. You just don't."

 

Value of older workers

Experts say people 75 or older bring value to the workplace and typically have a stronger work ethic than younger workers. They also are more punctual, have lower absenteeism and superior customer service skills, says Art Koff, founder of retiredbrains.com.

"Studies suggest that older people can be just as productive or creative as younger people," says Beverly Lyons, director of the advanced certificate program in gerontology at Long Island University in Brooklyn. "Older Americans tend to be fairly good at English grammar, spelling and doing simple arithmetic. These attributes offer intangible value that ultimately minimizes costly mistakes in the workplace."

Anthony Gries, manager of The Home Depot in Freeport, and Carpentieri's supervisor, says his store employs anywhere from six to a dozen older workers who are all dependable, punctual and "bring a lot more life experience as well as work experience to the job" than younger workers.

To prepare for the expected surge in older workers, some companies such as Pitney Bowes in Connecticut, and the not-for-profit Mitre Corp., based in Massachusetts and Virginia, are developing flexible workplace options like phased retirement, which offers employees approaching 65 a gradual reduction in hours, or part-time, seasonal and temporary work.

"Retirement is not the discrete event that we have come to know it as," says Jacquelyn James, director of research at the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College. "The old model of Social Security envisioned as a leg of a three-legged stool of retirement, with employer pensions and our savings, looks vulnerable. The workplace needs to adjust to the reality that a lot of people want and need to continue working and that a lot of [older] people have a lot to offer."

Hints for older job seekers

Want to work in retirement but don't know where to begin? Here are a few job-hunting tips to improve your success in the job market:

--Hire a professional to revise or update your resumé. The one you used years ago is out of date,

says Art Koff of retiredbrains.com

--Register with temp firms, which are less concerned with your age and more interested in your skills and experience.

--When you apply for a job, tell the employer you are willing to work on a project or temporary basis. Younger workers are typically interested in jobs with benefits.

--Search on job boards that connect older workers with employers, such as retired brains.com; retirement jobs.com; workforce50.com; seniorjobbank.com; and seniors4hire.org. Also, lifereimagined.com lists employers in multiple industries that have pledged to hire and retain workers age 50 or older, according to the AARP.

You also may be interested in: