Senior citizens trade retirement for the workforce

Monday, October 1, 2007 | 6:24 p.m. CDT; updated 5:17 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Mary Lou Black, 61, of Columbia, works 20 hours a week at the Columbia Housing Authority through the Experience Works program.

COLUMBIA — Arlene Fales has retired three times.

The 73-year-old grandmother has held jobs working for a county attorney’s office, Dillard’s, American Mutual Mortgage Co. and Chico’s.


For more information on Experience Works Inc. contact Employment and Training Coordinator Susan Strite at 573-442-0067.

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She has tried living off of retirement benefits and social security. But Fales now finds herself working -- again.

“I think a lot of people retire and find they can’t live on it,” she said. “And then some people want something to do.”

Fales now does secretarial work in the Experience Works Inc. office and takes computer classes to better equip herself with programs like Microsoft Excel.

She’s not alone.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Boone County has had steady increases in the number of senior citizens in the workforce from the years 2001 to 2005, which is the most recent data available.

A Census report called The Quarterly Workforce Indicator shows that employment of people ages 55-64 in Boone County increased 32.6 percent from 2001 to 2005, going from 6,451 workers in 2001 to 8,551 in 2005. Employment of people ages 65-99 increased 28.3 percent during the same time period, growing from 1,681 workers in 2001 to 2,157 in 2005. The growth of all workers in Boone County, by contrast, only grew 7.5 percent, or from 72,247 workers to 77,700, the Census reported.

In Missouri, the most common types of businesses that employ seniors are health services, business services and restaurants and bars, a 2002 Census report showed.

Major local employers are taking notice of the growing senior work population. Margrace Buckler, director of human resources for the city of Columbia, said that although the city doesn’t recruit toward any specific group of people, they see a lot of senior citizens applying for support and clerical jobs. From personal observation, one of the reasons causing senior citizens to defer retirement is the burden of health care costs while waiting for Medicare to kick in. Medicare is not generally available until age 65.

Those that return to work often apply for seasonal jobs such as park management during the summer, Buckler said.

“It’s a good thing because they know the city and what we do,” she said

Assistance is available in job placement and skill development for senior citizens returning to the workforce.

Experience Works Inc. is a nonprofit agency in Columbia that places applicants, such as Fales, with nonprofit organizations to acquire on-the-job training. Applicants may also be enrolled in other training opportunities such as computer classes to learn specific skills they need to succeed in the work place.

“It’s like a stepping stone into employment,” said Susan Strite, employment and training coordinator with Experience Works Inc.

State Farm Insurance, Columbia’s sixth largest employer, doesn’t keep statistics on senior hiring, said Public Affairs Specialist Alicia Robinson.

“We recognize that diversity is important in the work place and that senior citizens represent a part of the population that is growing,” she said.

Last week was National Employ Older Workers Week, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. Each year the week draws attention to the increases in senior citizen employment over the past few years and agencies, such as Experience Works Inc., that concentrate on helping seniors make the transition into the workforce.

Mary Lou Black, 61, also in the Experience Works Inc. program, said she called Strite looking for a job last year. She has been training with the Columbia Housing Authority since December and will be eligible to receive Social Security when she turns 62 at the end of the year.

Black, who performs various office duties, is in charge of checking the background of housing applicants by reviewing Case.Net and other reports.

“I like the people and the environment,” said Black, who was enjoying her new office. She used to operate the front desk at the housing authority, but now Black has a private office with a door, a large desk, a computer and a window overlooking the adjacent cul-de-sac.

Computer classes are in the near future for Black and she ultimately hopes to be offered a permanent job with the housing authority. Training time varies for individuals in the Experience Works program. Regardless of national trends, Black thinks senior citizens should remain in the workforce longer.

“Older people are dependable, and they do what they say they’re going to do,” she said.

To view the U.S. Census Bureau report on workforce trends, go to

Also, the Census’s “A Profile of Older Workers in Missouri” is at

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