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Rocky economy keeps some LI seniors from retiring

LIV LIVOLSI loves her job as a hall monitor at Oyster Bay High School, but, at 83, working at her alma mater from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. is also a financial necessity.

She is one of a growing number of workers in their 60s and older who are postponing retirement over money - the poor economy, Wall Street losses, sagging personal finances - according to a new study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, D.C.

"Without the money I would have to be on a tight budget," said Livolsi, an Oyster Bay resident who has held the job since 1964.

The percentage of workers who expect to retire after 65 has tripled since 1991, from 11 percent to 33 percent, according to the group's annual retirement confidence survey.

"I wouldn't be able to have a credit card. I wouldn't be able to have a car. I wouldn't be able to buy my grandchildren birthday or Christmas gifts," Livolsi said.

This national trend is meaningful for Long Island where the senior population is growing. In Suffolk, the number of residents 65 and older jumped 15 percent between 2000 and 2008 - from 167,558 to 193,030 - according to Census data. The older population in Nassau inched up 0.5 percent to 201,862, compared with 200,841 in 2000.

Among the reasons given for postponing retirement in the survey, the poor economy came in first, with 29 percent of the workers citing it, and most other leading reasons had to do with personal finances.

Seniors working longer

Whether to supplement their savings or simply to pay bills, some are staying in their current jobs longer or re-entering the workforce.

"In the past year and a half, that is when it dramatically became an issue," said Jennifer Cona, managing partner of Genser Dubow Genser & Cona, a Melville-based law firm that specializes in elder law and estate planning. "It really is on everyone's mind."

Jean Setzfand, the director of financial security at AARP in Washington, concurred.

She said that in the past people often retired because they hated their job or because their spouse was retiring.

"Those reasons are subservient now to more of the realistic factors of need," she said.

Making up for stock losses

Some local companies are also noticing the trend.

Steep losses to stock portfolios during the economic meltdown and rising health-care costs have forced some of the Alcott Group's clients and their employees in their mid-60s to delay retirement, said Louis Basso, president of the Farmingdale human-resources company."They are saying, 'I need to grow that nest egg and give myself a little bit of cushion I thought I had when the market was up at 14,000,' " Basso said.

Dan Shybunko, the 76-year-old chief executive of aerospace and defense parts-maker GSE Dynamics Inc. in Hauppauge, said some older employees are talking less about retirement for both financial and lifestyle reasons. "They aren't stressing the I-can't-wait-to-retire discussion anymore," he said.

Meanwhile, the number of private-sector pension plans has plummeted. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the federal agency that insures most private plans in the United States, said the number of single-employer plans it insures dropped to 27,900 in 2008, a 75 percent decline from 112,000 in 1985.

Livolsi, who has four children, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, said that when her husband died, his construction pension stopped and she needed money to supplement her Social Security. "I couldn't go out to eat once in a while with my friends," she said.

In case of emergency

Fred Altman of Hauppauge has no plans to retire. In fact, the 70-year-old is job hunting after being laid off in January as an elder-care adviser for a nonprofit. While he admits he likes to work because it keeps him mentally active, he said he and his wife, 65, who also works, need two incomes to live comfortably on Long Island and to deal with unexpected expenses, like $1,300 for a new hot water heater recently.

"We're like a lot of people at our age and station," he said. "We have what we need, except for emergency things."

Irene Huestis, 84, of Port Washington, retired at 68 but returned to the workforce two years later because she was bored. When her husband died seven years ago, her wages became essential.

"The taxes are very high here," Huestis said. "Prices go up, taxes go up. . . . Without a job, I don't think I'd be able to keep my house."

Huestis, who had worked for years as a secretary and bookkeeper, has been working for 14 years as a geriatric aide and all-around staffer at the Glen Cove Senior Center. Her husband had opted for a pension without survivor benefits. With that income gone, she knew she couldn't afford to live just on Social Security, which pays for such things as prescriptions, housing expenses and supplemental medical insurance. The income from the job goes mostly for taxes and car insurance. She said she budgets about $100 a week for food and gas.

"I think twice about spending money," she said.


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