1 in 5 Americans 65 and older still in workforce

By Kayne Pyatt, Herald Reporter
Posted 5/15/24

EVANSTON — According to the Pew Research Center, roughly one in five Americans age 65 and older (19%) were employed in 2023. That number is nearly double the share of those who were working …

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1 in 5 Americans 65 and older still in workforce


EVANSTON — According to the Pew Research Center, roughly one in five Americans age 65 and older (19%) were employed in 2023. That number is nearly double the share of those who were working thirty-five years ago. In 2023, older workers accounted for 7% of all wages and salaries paid by U.S. employers. That is more than triple the share in 1987 (2%).

Evanston has its own share of older workers, and the Herald interviewed two women and two men over age 60 who contribute significantly to the local workforce.

Women make up the larger share of older workers (46%) compared to 40% in 1987 and 33% in 1964. Forty-two percent of older working women have college degrees compared to only 12% in 1987. Currently, there are more women than men among all college educated workers.

Older workers’ earning power has also increased. In 2022, the typical worker age 65 and older earned $22 per hour, up from $13 per hour in 1987. They are also working more hours on average than in previous decades. Sixty-two percent work full-time, up from 47% in 1987. Current older workers are more likely to have a college degree than in the past; 44% have a bachelor degree compared to 18% in 1987.

Uinta County Museum Director Kay Rossiter, at age 86, plans to keep working as long as she can. Rossiter said her favorite part of the job is learning the history and stories about the artifacts in the museum and visiting with the guests who tour the museum.

“We get visitors from all over the U.S. and around the world,” Rossiter said. “It is such a joy to hear their stories — so many interesting people.”

Rossiter has an interesting career history. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Education from Mount Marty College in Yankton, South Dakota. She then worked as an architectural draftsman in Nebraska before moving to Evanston in 1984 and was employed at Forsgren Engineering as a civil draftsman where she drew oil well maps.

“I loved drawing the maps by hand but when they transferred to doing everything on computers, I looked for another job,” Rossiter said. “I started at the museum 30 years ago, doing maintenance at first, then moved to researching and cataloging the artifacts into an international cataloging system for museums until I became the director.”

Kelly Hughes, also over age 60, has a science background and now does all the research and cataloging of the artifacts. Curator Mary Walberg is responsible for setting up all the displays.

Rossiter became the director of the museum in 2010, and her responsibilities include budgeting, work progress, supervision, arranging special events, grant writing, publicity, overall management and reporting to a five-member board of directors.

Besides working at a full-time job, Rossiter volunteers as bookkeeper for the local food bank, the Lord’s Storehouse. Her hobbies are reading, watching documentaries, calligraphy, water colors and growing plants.

Rossiter has been a widow for 22 years. She has two daughters and a son; eight grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

In regards to her physical health, Rossiter said she started eating a carnivore diet several years ago and it was life-changing.

“People need to invest as much in their retirement personal health as they do in financial health,” Rossiter said. “Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Take a nap when you need it. I have no plans to retire soon — maybe in the future.”

Another local resident who plans to continue to work as long as she can is Chris Ellison. At 79, Ellison works as a hostess on weekends at her daughter’s restaurant — Jody’s Diner. Besides greeting people as they come in and seating them, Ellison also cleans tables, cashiers, and helps wherever needed.

“The favorite part of the job for me is interacting with all the customers,” Ellison said. “We have our regular customers, who I really enjoy, and then we have the travelers, and I enjoy hearing how they found our diner by someone sending information about the diner on their phone on an app. I don’t know what that is but it is wonderful that people hear about us somehow.”

Ellison said the “good Lord has blessed her with good health,” so she wants to keep working as long as she can. She refers to it as her “social time.” In her spare time, Ellison said she loves working in her flower gardens, playing bingo at the local senior center on Tuesdays and Bible study at her church on Wednesdays, along with reading and doing puzzles.

“I think older workers have more fun,” Ellison said. “They want the social interaction, and they can offer more patience and calmness. The younger ones work for the paycheck only.”

A Pew Research survey found that workers age 65 and older are more satisfied with their jobs overall than younger workers. Older workers say work is more fulfilling and less stressful now.

Jeff Shaffer, 62, works as a waiter full-time at Jody’s Diner, where he has been employed for two years. Shaffer is divorced with six grown children. When he is not working at Jody’s, he babysits his grandchildren and goes fly fishing. Shaffer also is an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy audio books and likes to watch television.

Shaffer’s work history includes time working at the local radio station and as graveyard supervisor at the Subway located at the Pilot truck stop.

“The best part of working at Jody’s is it occupies my time … and the social interaction. I love the crew and the regular customers who come in,” Shaffer said. “The hardest part is trying to schedule in time for the rest of your life and getting time off because we are short on help. When I can finally go on social security, I will probably go to part-time at the diner.”

Star Valley Health Senior Vice President Mike Hunsaker, 67, travels to Evanston once a week from his home in Afton. Hunsaker visits the Star Valley Health Imaging Center in Evanston to provide support and handle contracts.

Hunsaker deals with governmental affairs and interacts with the legislature and local government officials. He is responsible for business development, advertising and outreach for the Center. He also travels to the Star Valley Health Center clinics in Kemmerer and Cokeville.

“I took the long road to get my degree,” Hunsaker said. “I was 64 when I completed my Bachelor of Science in Health Care Management from Western Governors University. I was working with the hospital for 13 years and knew if I wanted to get any promotion, I would need a degree.”

His previous experience and employment were in the fields of telecommunications and information technology operations as project manager when he commuted from Afton to Pocatello, Idaho, for 11 years.

Hunsaker served on the hospital board in Star Valley from 1999 until 2005 and also served three terms as mayor of Afton.

Hunsaker and his wife, Shelly, have been married for 45 years, and he is proud to say that all five of his grown children have earned postgraduate degrees. Shelly is the district media specialist for nine schools in Star Valley. Hunsaker said they both plan to take advantage of their good health and keep working as long as they can. When they decide to retire, they want to travel and spend time with their grandchildren.

“Work is very rewarding. I want to make a contribution to something bigger than myself,” Hunsaker said. “I don’t want to go home and sit in a rocking chair, wait to have a heart attack and die. At night, I want to be able to say, I helped somebody today.”

Hunsaker said the difficult part of working as an older person is keeping up with the physical demands and the stamina needed for long days at work.

“It is harder to recover from the physical exhaustion as you age,” Hunsaker said. “But I want to remain relevant and meaningful to my team, the organization and to my community. Keeping up with the young people, new technology and changes can be difficult. The part I enjoy about working with young people is when they look at me for grandfatherly advice, I’m glad I can draw on my broad range of experience to interact with them.”