Although he is now 77 and has 32 years with the same company, retirement has never crossed Dave Mayfield's mind.
Mayfield runs the computer numeric control (CNC) machine at Awerkamp Machine Company. His wife, Dorothy, is 72 and has been a beautician at North Adams Home in Mendon, Ill., for more than 40 years. Both are part of a growing trend in the workforce -- baby boomers working into their 70s.
"We raised five kids, and money was tight," Mayfield said. "Now we're able to spend it on the things we want and do the things we want to do."
According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate is expected to increase faster for the oldest segments of the population than any other segment over the 2014–24 decade.
While from 1970 to the mid-1990s, older workers -- those 55 and up -- made up the smallest segment of the population. Since the turn of the century, the segment has continually grown and is no longer the smallest demographic of worker.
A 2014 Gallup poll found that the overall retirement age had risen to its highest level since the poll began in 1991. Improvements in health care and life expectancy and changes to Social Security benefits all play a role in the trend. Gallup attributes the increase, at least in part, to the baby boomers' reluctance to retire for any number of reasons ranging from financial to a hard work ethic and inability to shift down to a slower pace of life.
For Mayfield, it's a combination of the two, but the latter certainly plays a large part.
His work ethic took him into the Marines at 17, and after deploying overseas, he returned and got to work. He had a couple jobs before finding the right fit at Awerkamp in 1986.
Today, Mayfield is one of the few employees trained to use the CNC machine, a high-tech, programmable piece of equipment used to etch out precise pieces of steel.
"If I have a pain when I get up in the morning, I get up anyway and get moving," Mayfield said, acknowledging that he does have some arthritis. "I'll keep doing this as long as I feel good."
No magic number
West Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging field representative Laura Megown said she has seen the expansion of the trend locally. As the cost of living has increased, Social Security pay-outs have remained stagnant, and many seniors choose to remain in the workforce past 65. Megown said a magic retirement number no longer exists.
"Sixty-five used to be the number, but that has already changed," she said. "I'll have to work until I'm 70 before I'm able to retire."
Megown also noted that it is becoming more common for seniors to re-enter the workforce after spending all of their retirements. The WCIAAA hosts an annual job fair geared toward seniors, helps them build a skills-based resume and works with other organizations, such as the Illinois Department of Employment Security and John Wood Community College's Workforce Development Center to help seniors find jobs.
"That generation was raised to believe you don't stand there with your hand out," Megown said. "You earn what you get, which is a good thing."
Megown encourages seniors who are considering re-entering the workforce to do so, a move she said adds tax dollars to the community coffers and improves overall quality of life.
"Younger people can learn from more mature people working side-by-side with them," she said.
More than the money
For Connie Meyer, who is 76, leaving Blessing Health System's EMS Department means leaving her family.
Meyer has been in Blessing's EMS Department for 38 years. She was the health care provider's first EMS secretary and has managed all the department's records since she was hired in 1980.
"I really don't want to give it up," Meyer said. "It's my baby."
She has seen the records cross over from paper to digital and has seen Blessing Health System incorporate several surrounding counties and Air Evac into the fold of its EMS department.
On the weekends, even when she isn't scheduled to work, she volunteers as a patient for EMS classes. When opportunities have arisen over the years to take more prestigious positions in different departments, she has shot them down.
"I have a lot of friends here, and I get a lot of respect," she said. "They think I know everything, and I don't, but I've seen a lot."
Meyer's late-husband, Larry, was a pharmacist. He died of a heart attack in 1994. She took a week off of work and then came back, because she felt more comfortable around her coworkers than at home.
Larry's death left her to support herself financially. Income was a factor in her decision to continue working past retirement age, but she always has been propelled more by a love of the job.
"When my husband died, I had three doctors come up and embrace me," she said. "The administrator did the same thing, to let me know they're there for me. Blessing has been a family for me."
Meyer knows that she is probably going to retire soon, but when discussing the prospects of leaving Blessing, she can't hide her dejected tone. Even after retiring though, she plans to increase her volunteer efforts. Currently, she volunteers at the Quincy Hospitality House monthly.
"Maybe I'll even see if I could volunteer here," she said of the EMS Department. "I'd love to. My heart is here."
Uncertainty after retiring
Of the 17.5 million Americans in office and administrative support careers, 1.1 million are 65 or older, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unsurprisingly, when considering a more manual-labor oriented field like construction, the percentage of workers 65 or older drops significantly. Of the 8 million Americans in construction and extraction occupations, only 263,000 are 65 or older.
The rigorous nature of the field makes the continued employment of the Tieman brothers at Dale Koontz Builder more impressive.
Dave Tieman came onboard with the company at 20, when Dale Koontz was still running it. Forty-five years later, Tieman, now 65, has yet to seriously consider retirement.
"I've always liked what I was doing here," he said. "I don't know when I'll retire. I haven't decided yet."
Koontz builder's longest non-family-member employee, Tieman began painting and doing finishing work. As the company grew, he took on more of a project manager role, meaning he oversees the progress of several different projects.
"I'm not sure what I'll do after I retire," he said. "I've never really thought much about it. I won't know what to do with myself when I'm not working."
By contrast, Tieman's younger brother, Paul, who was hired a few years later in 1975, anxiously is awaiting retirement. Paul's position is more labor-intensive, and over 40 years of concrete work and framing are beginning to take a toll.
"The kind of work I do, it's getting to be time for me," he said. "I am looking forward to it, and at the same time, I'm not. I don't know what I'll do when I'm done."