MEDFORD, Ore. — Bob Forrest sold real estate, ran a laundry and cleaning service, then operated Mt. Ashland Stage Lines — a private predecessor to the Rogue Valley Transportation District.

That was before launching his mortgage firm in 1976.

Today, Forrest is to the north side of 80, still brokering mortgages, and isn’t slowing down a bit. Earlier this year, he opened a bed and breakfast.

“I never really wanted to retire,” said Forrest, a 1954 graduate of Marshfield High School in Coos Bay. “I looked around when I was growing up, and anytime someone retired, they were dead in a couple of months; that’s the way it seemed.”

Seniors are living far longer than past generations, and many of them still show up for work well past expected retirement age. Some work for themselves and others punch the clock, too busy to let aches and pains spoil their fun. Others find themselves back in the workforce to fill retirement plan gaps.

The post-World War II baby boom between 1946 and 1964 produced 74.1 million births. Oregon Employment Department research by regional economist Guy Tauer reveals the percentage of people 55 and older in the Oregon labor market rose to about 40 percent in 2016 from about 30 percent in 1997. In the fourth quarter of 2016, nearly 18 percent — or about 15,500 — Jackson County workers ranged from 55 to 64 years old. Another 7 percent were older than 65.

Tauer suggests as fewer people collect pensions after working for one company or organization throughout their career, workers are staying on the job longer.

“Housing costs are rising much faster than income; health care and insurance are going up,” Tauer said. “All those things keep people engaged in the labor force longer, because they’re not certain what the future holds.”

He also theorizes that most workers define themselves by their industry, company or an organization where they volunteer.

“It gives you the reward of contributing towards something larger than yourself,” Tauer said. “You still make a difference regardless of your age.”

Forrest said he was too busy raising a family to think about retirement. After 40 years, he said he still likes his line of work, originating mortgage loans.

“I have flexibility,” he said. “I’m very experienced at it, and it’s a pretty complicated business.”

Now and then, older workers are drawn back to a profession that once seemed less attractive when better offers came along.

Toni Williams started out in the floral business when she was a 16-year-old Crater High student in the late 1950s.

“I was working at the Craterian Theater and the Medford Flower Shop on East Main,” Williams said. “I was still working there when the flower shop moved to Bartlett in the late 1950s and early 1960s.”

After taking time off to have four children, Williams returned to the flower shop, earning $1.85 an hour.

“Then a friend told me about the Red Baron (former restaurant at the Medford airport),” she said. “After six months they told me they would pay $2.50 an hour; with tips, that was a no-brainer.”

After 11 years, she did management stints at K & D, Shenandoah and Colony Far East restaurants. Admittedly, she was ready for a change, she said. She jumped at the opportunity to return to the floral business at Corrine’s Flowers & Gifts 30 years ago.

“I grew up here and my kids all grew up here,” Williams said. “I love the flowers, and I know the people; that’s what keeps me going.”

Longtime customers might be the only thing that hasn’t changed for older workers. Just about every workplace has been revolutionized by technological advances and regulatory reforms since those 65 and older earned their first paycheck.

Long ago, flowers sold locally were shipped over the Siskiyous on a Greyhound bus out of San Francisco.

“Now they come in from Ecuador and Colombia by FedEx air,” Williams said. “The quality of the flowers is a lot nicer, and they last a lot longer.”

Clientele desires and demands have changed over the decades, too.

“Times got busier, people got busier,” Williams said. “They do a lot more one-stop shopping, so our business had to come up with other ideas to get customers back.”

Funerals were a bread-and-butter income stream for florist shops in the 1950s and 1960s, she said. “But a lot of people don’t have services now, so we have to come up with other ideas to sell flowers. We have to give them more options.”

Perhaps nothing has grown more byzantine and voluminous than the U.S. tax code over the past 40 years. Medford CPA Fred Johannsen has plied his trade since 1977.

“It’s always been a challenging profession because of continual changes in tax laws and regulations, and everything that goes with it,” said the longtime partner of Johannsen, Dye & Purkeypile CPAs. “You find your niche, and your expertise keeps you going. You try not to delve into areas you’re not totally familiar with.”

Although computer programs and e-filing rule the present, a stash of sharpened pencils and a 10-key adding machine are always within reach.

At 68, he could choose other pursuits, but Johannsen is comfortable in his domain. He sees other people his age, or older, continuing their work.

“It crossed my mind,” Johannsen said. “Why are they still doing that? It could be need, enjoyment, health insurance, or a whole slew of things. Maybe they like to get out of the house in the morning.”

He’s thought about slowing down, but retirement has yet to join his lexicon.

“I never put a time frame on when I went to work here,” he said. “I didn’t think about retiring or walking out the door when I was 65. I enjoy my profession, and keeping busy.”

Sometimes, it’s not the business or profession, but the employer that keeps workers on the job.

Sandy Hight raised two children while working for Safeway and Albertsons before turning her attention to caring for her mother, who was struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. Hight returned to the grocery business at Shady Cove Market after moving to the Upper Rogue region. When Hight’s supervisor, Tami Meerten, moved on to the Edgewater Inn on the banks of the Rogue River, Hight soon followed, handling the front desk and breakfast counter.

“I’ve been working with Tami for almost 14 years,” said Hight, who is accompanied by her pug and Chihuahua mix, Dorie, to the office every morning. “I love what I do here.”

Although she could retire in a couple of years, Hight is in no rush. While caring for her mother, Hight asked her mother’s doctor how she could avoid Alzheimer’s.

“He said to keep busy,” she said. “So I’m going to keep busy until they tell me I can’t do this anymore.”

The residual effects of the shift from defined benefit pensions to 401(k) savings plans has contributed to people working into their 70s and 80s, Forrest said, pointing out that millions of retirement-aged Americans have no more than $3,000, often less, in the bank.

Reviewing statistics from the final quarter of 2016, Tauer discovered among Jackson County workers 65 and older there was a higher concentration in retail trade; professional, scientific and technical services; real estate, rental and leasing; and other services when compared with overall figures. He added differences were only between 1 and 3.4 percentage points. Not surprisingly, there was less concentration in physically demanding construction and manufacturing sectors.

The most prevalent place to find the region’s oldest workers, he said, was in e-commerce and mail-order houses, which employed nearly 400. Grocery stores and automobile dealers both had 115 workers older than 65, while general merchandise stores employed 96.

“There is a noticeable uptick in the 55-and-older group,” Tauer said. “Whether they are wanting to work longer, or there are more opportunities because the labor market is tighter and there is less age bias because unemployment is at historical low levels, it seems all these factors are coming into play. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would have liked to have punched the clock for the last time. But the cost of living has hurt people’s ability to save.”


Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/