Pope's resignation resonates with older workers

Diane C. Lade, Sun Sentinel

Feb 11,2013

Pope Benedict XVI may be retiring at age 85, but in South Florida, more seniors than ever are punching the clock.

Thanks to modern medicine and workplace technology, you can find people in their 80s and older still at their desks. In fact, the number of senior Florida residents in the work force has increased 60 percent in the past decade, with about 527,000 people age 65 and older either employed or job hunting last year, federal statistics show.

Still, many expressed sympathy with Benedict, who announced Monday he is resigning Feb. 28 because he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties. Health issues tied to advancing age can sideline CEOs and worker bees alike, they said.

"He's not well and I am sure his job is a lot tougher than mine," said Arnold Levinstein, 90, of Boca Raton, who works part-time from home, monitoring telecommunications billings for large corporations. "The Catholic Church is the one of the largest property owners in the world."

Levinstein — who first left his sales and marketing career 30 years ago but retired from his retirement when non-stop golf and tennis drove him crazy — got his own wake-up call when he fell recently.

"I have been taking it sort of easy, making a few calls but nothing like before," he said.

Geriatric medical experts say productivity doesn't have an expiration date. An individual's physical and mental abilities, not how long ago the person was born, should determine whether and when it's time for workers to pack up their briefcases.

Sophisticated surgical treatments and more preventive screenings mean there are "a lot of elders who are in very good shape, and who will be ready and want to work," said Dr. Regina Marranzini, a geriatric specialist at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood. She has many older patients who work or volunteer, including a 96-year-old who reads for blind children.

Mason Jackson, president of WorkForce One, said the gradual societal shift from physical to knowledge-based jobs also makes it possible for seniors to work longer. "It's easier if you're older to work sitting behind a computer as compared to working in agriculture," he said.

WorkForce One has been seeing more older job-seekers in recent years, Jackson said, in part because more need to supplement their retirement incomes due to the economic downturn. Federal statistics show 16 percent of Floridians age 65 and older now are in the work force, as compared with a little under 12 percent 10 years ago.

Retail positions are a popular senior job choice, Jackson said. Publix supermarkets employ about 8,500 associates companywide older than 65, with some in their 90s, company officials said. More than 2,000 of them work in South Florida.

While the pope is exiting voluntarily, the Catholic Church has some age restrictions, too. Bishops must submit their resignations at age 75, although it doesn't need to be immediately accepted. At 80, cardinals can no longer vote for pope. And rules for priests vary by diocese; the Miami Archdiocese expects but does not require priests to retire at 75.

Edith Lederberg, executive director of the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Broward County, thinks seniors should ask two questions when considering if it's time to turn in their company badges: Can they physically and mentally still do the job? And are they still having fun?

It's a standard she's applied to her career. Starting with the agency in 1977, she's now 83 and has no plans to go any time soon.

"Once it stops being fun, and I feel the world's caught up with me, then I'll leave," she said. or 954-356-4295.

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