Seniors Treading Along in the Workforce

More senior citizens are choosing work over retirement, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report. The study shows in 1980, only 3 million people over the age of 65 were working, compared to about 4.5 million in 2002.

A spunky and enthusiastic floral designer named Erma Hayes is one of them. At 70 years old, Erma is five years past her expected retirement date and nowhere close to leaving.

"You put so much into it, because you have customers that look for certain special things," says the veteran designer. Eighteen years ago, Erma was just looking for a job when she was hired at Red Barn Flower and Gift Shop in Tyler. But much like her floral arrangements, Erma's career started with no set pattern or outcome.

"I said I would retire when I reached 65," she remembers. "But when I did, I wasn't ready. Now I'm 70, and I'm still not ready."

Erma says two things keep her from putting her working hands to rest. For one, "I like to work," she says. "And it seems to take a lot out of you when you retire and do nothing."

Erma agrees with experts who say many seniors fear financial instability.

"Most of the time you need finance to keep going," she says. "That is the reason why a lot of people work past 65, because they cannot afford to retire."

Certified senior advisor Brad Harvey with RealNet Financial says that's becoming the modern day reality. Harvey helps dozens of seniors take out reverse mortgages so they can use home equity loans as a financial base. He says two decades of change have disrupted what's considered the traditional 60 to 70 something lifestyle.

Their frame of mind has changed, says Harvey. "Plus, the economic realities of having a market down and the cost of living today is driving a lot of them back to work."

But if you're Erma Hayes, you'd rather just stay at work.

"As a designer, no two designs are alike," she says while clipping a handful of long stems. "They're completely different. I tell them all the time nobody can do mine like I do, and I can't copy theirs."

Erma's co-workers say it would be hard for anyone to duplicate the old-fashioned work ethic that she has come to embody.