OLDER GENERATIONS WORKING LONGER [Corrected 12/29/14] Series: GENERATIONAL SHIFT

By Belser, Ann | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), December 25, 2014 | Go to article overview

OLDER GENERATIONS WORKING LONGER [Corrected 12/29/14] Series: GENERATIONAL SHIFT


Belser, Ann, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


One collective memory that separates the older generation of workers from everyone else is that of a product that was once ubiquitous: carbon paper. The "cc" line on modern email is a reference to a carbon copy - the type created on a typewriter by inserting carbon paper between sheets of paper.

The percentage of workers over 65 in the labor force - most of whom remember the days when running an office was quite labor intensive because of things like typing those carbon copies - was higher in 2013 than at any time since 1962.

Since the turn of the century, older workers have been coming back - or staying in - the workforce as retirement benefits have been cut and pensions eroded. In addition, life spans have lengthened and health improved for many.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18.7 percent of Americans over 65 were working or looking for work last year.

In the late 1940s, labor force participation for that age group was around 27 percent. By the 1980s and 1990s, that rate had declined, hovering around 11 and 12 percent.

The young people from the offices of the 1960s and 1970s have experiences that make what could be a crisis for today's young employees just another work day.

Paul Singer was sitting in a 12th-floor conference room of the glass Reed Smith high-rise in Downtown recently, remembering the Reed Smith law firm where he started. The office had been in the Union Trust Building and the place was filled with people whose job it was to get legal papers researched, written, typed, filed and sent.

That work can now all be done by one lawyer.

Mr. Singer said computers, which give lawyers the ability to do research on the Internet and file papers electronically, have leveled the playing field between small and large firms. They all have access to research and filings quickly.

What computers do not provide, the 71-year-old attorney of Indiana Township said, is the judgment needed to effectively handle a case.

"I can get down to the substance very quickly and see what the likelihood of success can be or will be," said Fred Colen, a 67- year-old intellectual property attorney from Shadyside.

Both men admit that they were lucky to have chosen a field where they can keep working well past normal retirement age. That's a good thing, Mr. Singer said, because he considered himself a good lawyer in his 30s and 40s, but he really hit his stride in his mid- 50s in his corporate reorganizations specialty.

Mr. Colen said the only thing he is not as good at as the younger lawyers is handling the technology used in place of slides and boards during trials now.

While many workers are looking to retire when they turn 65, Jeanne Clark, the public information officer for Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, started that job on Aug. 4 - her 65th birthday.

Though she has not been in the same job for decades, she has been in jobs that involve health care and the environment. The Alcosan job involves explaining the health, environmental and economic issues facing the region as the authority gears up for about a $3 billion upgrade.

Ms. Clark left her previous job as the director of communications for PennFuture to run for city council. …

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