Video: Why we're working longer
updated 6/21/2005 3:56:38 PM ET 2005-06-21T19:56:38

Working fifty hours a week well into your seventies may sound like a nightmare, but for many older Americans working well into their golden years is becoming a normal and even desirable part of retirement.

On Tuesday, MSNBC's Randy Meier explored the issue of Americans working longer into their lives, talking with 92-year-old Emma Shulman, who works up to 50 hours a week still recruiting people for treatment at an Alzheimer's clinic in New York City, along with Peter Coy, author of this week's 'Business Week' cover story on retirement.

Shulman told Meier that for her, going to work is a vital part of staying healthy well past the standard retirement age.

"I think the key thing is, I need to keep learning and to keep stimulating my mind," Shulman said.

Coy noted that although economics plays a factor, there are many older people in the workforce like Shulman, who are working longer to stay active.

"Well obviously it's a little of both, people emphasize the economic angle, but the fact it's not that older Americans are getting poor and are desperate to work, sure there's some in that category, but we show data in our cover story that the wealth of older Americans has been going up," he said. "I think the more important phenomenon is people want to work longer, they're healthy, the health of older American's is going up thanks to better nutrition, better medicine and better interventions like treatment of heart disease and so on, they're more mentally alert than they used to be at the same age"

Coy noted that unlike previous generations where the U.S. economy was more manufacturing-based, much of today's workforce is not subjected to a heavy physical toll, making it easier for older people to work.

"Work is getting physically easier, there are fewer manufacturing jobs for example and automation has taken some of the physical labor out of other jobs, but all these things together, and people actually can work longer and are choosing to work longer," he said.

"The age of retirement, which had been falling through most of the twentieth century, turned around and started rising during the mid-eighties and has continued upward in the last few years," Coy said.

That makes Shulman a trendsetter, to the extreme. She credits her high energy level -- her boss said she does the work of two employees -- to a number of factors.

"I think from a lot of places, I think firstly because I'm fortunate enough to have good genes," she said. "Secondly because I'm fortunate enough to be well physically, that counts for a lot. And thirdly, because I have done a lot of exercise all my life, I believe in it very strongly, it helps me a great deal.

"Fourthly, because really I feel what I'm doing is very important, it's giving people something they need," she added. "Selfishly I have to admit, I'm also getting something I need."

MSNBC Live with Amy Robach and Randy Meier can be seen weekdays from 9 a.m.-Noon.

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