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Health care costs, desire to keep active cited as reasons for working past retirement age

Health care costs, desire to keep active cited as reasons for working past retirement age

April 23rd, 2018 by Philip Joens in Business

Julie Smith/News Tribune Lowe's plumbing department's Kermit Klatt assists customers and stocks shelves on a recent Friday afternoon. Klatt is beyond retirement age, in fact he has retired once already, but is working again to pay his insurance.

Kermit Klatt settled into a weathered green recliner one Friday and prepared to hibernate.

 

The 81-year-old sat still and stiff on this late March day, at peace with the world and whatever might pop up on TV for the next six hours.

"I probably won't move until 7 p.m.," Klatt said around 12:30 p.m. that day in his western Jefferson City home. "I've got to save up my energy for 1 p.m."

That was when the full-time employee would report for work in the plumbing department at Lowe's home improvement store.

These days, millions of people work past retirement age as health care costs rise and some struggle to save for retirement. Many, like Klatt, work for economic reasons. Others work to give back to their communities and to avoid slowing down.

Klatt's duties at Lowe's include selling water heaters, water softeners and kitchen faucets. At work, he replaces the walker he uses to get around his home with a silver shopping cart. Customers and associates know him for the way he smiles and introduces himself when customers enter the plumbing aisle.

For decades, Klatt worked in Illinois selling farming equipment. He sold out of the business around 20 years ago and said his role in the farming industry no longer exists these days.

A Jamestown native, Klatt and his wife, Jean, moved back to Mid-Missouri from Illinois about 18 years ago. Shortly afterward, in May 2000, he began working at Lowe's Columbia store. When the company later opened a Jefferson City store on Missouri Boulevard, Klatt transferred there.

Sitting at his kitchen table, Klatt said he loves the social aspect of the job. His body is aging, though, and he knows it.

While he gets around OK with the help of his trusty shopping cart, Klatt cannot lift heavy things like he once could. As he contemplates finally retiring, Klatt said, the cost of health care for him and his wife weighs on him the most.

"When you look at vision, dental, the benefits I have now, I would imagine benefits on the outside would cost me $50 per day," Klatt said. "I'm 80 percent insured at Lowe's, then I get Medicare. Between the two, that's the reason I work."

Jean Klatt, 80, retired from U.S. Bank shortly after the couple moved back to Mid-Missouri in 2000. She knows her husband still enjoys his job but worries about the toll it takes on him at their age.

"He should be sitting and retired," Jean said. "He might have to pretty soon, and we'll just have to bite the bullet."

Kermit has looked at several outside health insurance plans but said most have deductibles and cover only a handful of doctor's office or hospital visits each year. The toll of rising costs for pharmaceutical drugs also weighs on him.

Jean takes Januvia for Type 2 diabetes, a drug which can cost about $6,000 per year. Kermit takes four medications per day.

Jay Hardenbrook, AARP Missouri director for advocacy, said people are working longer for many reasons. Still, Hardenbrook said his office gets calls often about people working later due to increasing health care costs.

Prescription drug expenses accounted for about 12 percent of total U.S. health care spending in 2015, up from about 7 percent through the 1990s, according to trade publication Modern Healthcare. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology sales revenue increased from $534 billion in 2006 to $775 billion in 2015, according to the publication.

Some common medications, like rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira, can cost as much as $38,000 per year. Other more specialized drugs, like one designed to treat a rare form of leukemia made by California-based biotech giant Amgen, can cost as much as $178,000 per year.

As is, Kermit's premium costs him about $7,000 per year, he estimated, taking up a large chunk of his $18-per-hour salary. Still, the Klatts know all too well the bills they could face if any medical emergency were to spring up after Kermit retires.

In December 2016, Jean had a minor stroke that hospitalized her for 24 hours. She recovered quickly and walked out of the hospital, but the visit cost $48,000. Because of their insurance and Medicare coverage, the Klatts paid only $150 of a $900 ambulance bill.

"If you don't have insurance, you couldn't survive," Kermit said.

A change in plans

Older workers, defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as workers ages 55 and up, made up the smallest segment of the workforce between 1970-2000. By 2023, the BLS projects, 41 million older workers will participate in the workforce, including 13 million ages 65 or older.

In May 2017, the BLS projected the workforce growth rate for 65- to 74-year-olds will grow by 55 percent. The percentage of people age 75 and older working will grow by 86 percent. During that same time frame, the BLS expects the overall labor force to grow by only 5 percent.

Last year, the bureau said baby boomers are primarily responsible for these increases.

"They are healthier and have a longer life expectancy than previous generations," the BLS said in a 2016 study. "Changes to Social Security benefits and employee retirement plans, along with the need to save more for retirement, create incentives to keep working."

About 27 percent of older workers work part time and about 40 percent of people ages 65 and older work part time, the BLS said. Hardenbrook, from AARP, said changing retirement benefits are one reason many people work later in life now.

"Part of that is the workplace has changed," Hardenbrook said. "Very few people have pensions, and a lot of businesses now don't even offer 401(k) (plans)."

Nearly half of families have no retirement account savings, according to a 2016 Economic Policy Institute study. In 2008, the median amount of savings in retirement accounts ranged from $1,123 for people ages 32-37 to $35,929 for people ages 56-61.

By 2013, that dropped to a range of $480 for people ages 32-37 and $17,000 for people ages 56-61.

The EPI said retirement wealth nearly doubled between 1990-2013. Over that time, businesses began slowly switching employees from defined-benefit plans like pensions to defined-contribution plans like 401(k) plans. Under defined-contribution plans, employee participation is voluntary.

The EPI said this limits access for low-income and middle-class earners.

"Contributions are voluntary and funds may be tapped before retirement, making retirement savings more vulnerable than traditional pension benefits to economic downturns," according to the study.

Maintaining an active life

During his breaks at home, Klatt takes solace in the time his body gets to recuperate. But they also bore him.

He takes pride in his job and the work he does. He likes working afternoons and evenings when there's more action around the store. He accepts that working in retail means a life of working on weekends, holidays and Sundays missing church.

"As long as I can hang onto a shopping cart, I can walk those young guys right into the floor," Klatt said.

John Rissmiller, manager of the Jefferson City Lowe's store, said nobody knows more about the items in the store than Klatt.

"People seek him out," Rissmiller said. "Really, not only does he help our customers, but he's really good with our new employees."

Several AARP programs help workers enter or re-enter the workforce. Some help prospective employees write résumés. Others help people look for and find work.

Sometimes older workers step back into work when their communities or the businesses they retired from need them. Other times, older workers step away from a job to run their own business in a new career.

Dennis Licklider fits both molds.

Licklider retired from Jefferson City High School in 2009 after 32 years teaching driver's education, coaching football and coaching track and field. After Mark Caballero stepped down as activities director at JCHS last spring, the school found itself in a pinch without an activities director.

Licklider agreed to fill in as co-interim activities director with two other people. During the school year, he can work 550 hours for Jefferson City Public Schools and retain his pension through the Public Schools Retirement System. He spends much of that time working in an office weekdays from 8-10 a.m.

On one morning in early April, Licklider dealt with a personnel issue in the office. On an overcast afternoon later that day, he found himself back at the school, timing a junior varsity track meet and working for his own company.

After retiring in 2009, Licklider and his wife founded a company that times track meets for schools around the area each spring. Licklider described each spring as a gold rush in some ways. This spring, he planned to work 68 meets, timing about two events every day.

"Your window is so short," Licklider said. "If you don't time them during track season, you don't have anything to time after track season."

At age 66, Licklider said money from his job with JCPS and his timing company helps. He does both to stay active and help the community.

"It's pocket change," he said. "There is some extra money there to do some fun stuff with, but I suspect that's not the driving force for most people."

After a long, active life, Licklider said it can be hard to slow down. Retirement gives people the ability to be as active as they want.

"You spend your life being active and involved," Licklider said. "That becomes a way of life."

Click here to view the full April 2018 edition of #jcmo Inside Business.