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Golden years for some can still be full of toil

At 80, Betty Page commutes from Clearwater each weekday to her administrative assistant job in Pinellas Park. She isn't thinking of quitting any time soon.

"I enjoy it. I can't see why I would want to stay home. All I've got at home is my little cat,'' she said.

Page is not that unusual. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, the number of older Americans with jobs is growing.

"More and more people want to work or have to work, either full time or part time, after retiring,'' said Jay Jamrog, president of Human Resource Institute in St. Petersburg and distinguished lecturer at the University of Tampa's John H. Sykes College of Business.

"People are living longer and healthier and they see no reason why they should just sit around. And, more importantly, they really need the money. There is also the fact of sociability and having a reason to get up in the morning,'' said Kay Reitz, project director for AARP Foundation Senior Community Service Employment Program in south Pinellas County.

Reitz said not all retirees are volunteering, taking cruises or visiting grandchildren.

"There's a whole segment of the senior population that doesn't have that luxury,'' said Reitz, whose program offers training and placement for low-income people 55 and older.

Joseph Billera, 70, who got an office job through AARP at S.W. Red Smith, a Pinellas Park factory that makes pickled eggs and pigs feet, is one who needs to work.

"You make plans, and then when they triple your house insurance, your plans start to go askew. The price of gasoline goes up, but your Social Security and your bank account doesn't go up much.''

Page works for Reitz at the AARP Foundation and was once a bank teller. She returned to work after her husband died in 1987. "I'd retired in February and then he died that June. So I knew I had to go back to work, just for the money,'' she said.

Jamrog said finances and a desire to use their experience and education are fueling the rise in employment among people over 55. He noted that many baby boomers haven't saved large sums of money for retirement.

"They are going to be living to be 80 or 90. That's a lot of retirement years,'' he said. "Right now, they are taking low-end service jobs. They're Wal-Mart greeters, supermarket baggers and hamburger flippers. Employers love them. They are reliable. It gives the retirement person some income. ...''

The AARP program helps applicants build skills by sending them to work at nonprofit organizations and government agencies, Reitz said. They work a 20-hour week and get minimum wage, which is paid by AARP. AARP eventually helps them find permanent jobs.

The effort has been successful, Reitz said. "I'm authorized to have 113 people working at one time, and last year, we were successful in getting 89 percent into 'real jobs.' ''

The program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, is limited to low-income applicants 55 and older. "They cannot have made more than $12,250 in the past year,'' Reitz said. "For two people, it's $16,500.''


Senior jobs

AARP Foundation Senior Community Service Employment Program, south Pinellas, 7800 66th St. N, No. 202, Pinellas Park, 547-0534; North Pinellas, 1550A 16th St., Palm Harbor, 785-1309;