Larry Agin has spent his entire career doing calculations. For about 30 years, he worked for an insurance company in Los Angeles as an actuary, a profession that involves assessing all kinds of risks, including mortality.
But he retired in his early fifties, a few years earlier than expected. So, when he came across an advertisement seeking to help search for background actors, he made the decision to launch a second act in his professional life and to “retire”. As he figured out his next move, he knew it wouldn’t pay off much, but he wasn’t that worried. He had income from his pension and other savings. He also had the time and the desire to reinvent himself. “I just wanted to try it,” Agin says.
It wouldn’t be long before Agin found himself in a tuxedo on the set of HBO’s “Path to War”, positioning himself next to Alec Baldwin on his wife’s advice (stand near a star, thought- it would increase his chances of making the final scene). This moment would mark the start of nearly three years of work as a background actor, playing everything from detective to protester. Now 71, Agin says other work was a “good” way to make the transition to fuller retirement.
Agin is far from the only one who puts an intrigue on what retirement is – or is not. For many, working someday and never again is not how the story unfolds. Of course, some people return to work or “retire backwards” out of necessity. The average retirement savings of workers was $ 71,000 in 2017, according to Estimates from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, a nest egg that is not large enough to last 20 years or more. But the list of motivations people cite for returning to work is long. Some retirees, like Agin, have gone back to work to try something new or interesting. Others return to work because their former employer asked them to come back. Some come back to the game for an ego boost or to give back to the community.
When to retire is not to retire
Whatever the reason, some kind of retirement divorce is known as non-retirement. It is difficult to put precise figures on the trend; non-retirement is an emerging area of research. But it’s something that could get worse for all kinds of reasons: we’re living longer, some of us are voluntarily retiring younger, and yes, because we might need the money.
Catherine Collinson, CEO and President of the Transamerica Institute and the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, says retirement is very different today than it was a few decades ago.
“Some still want old-fashioned retirement, but many want phased retirement, either by going from full-time to part-time, working in another capacity, or maybe even pursuing a recall career,” Collinson said.
In fact, more than half of workers are nearing retirement over the next five years believe they will likely return to work, according to a survey commissioned by Home Rather.
The twist on retirement is already littered with corporate mission statements. Encore.org, for example, connects people 50 and over to Second Acts to help improve communities. Others, like the roommate service Silver nest, connect baby boomers and empty nesters looking to share living space in a home. In recent weeks, Home Place, which hires professional caregivers for the elderly, has even launched an “UnRetire Yourself” campaign.
What is driving the trend?
Retirement has evolved into something a little more fluid for a number of reasons. One important factor has to do with the answer to an evolving mathematical equation: as we live longer, can we retire at the same age as before? The answer for many is no, “you just can’t afford it,” says Theodora Lau, founder of Unconventional Ventures and former director of market innovation at AARP.
But the reasons people go back to work transcend income.
In some cases, former employers are asking retirees to come back. The reason? They need talent. Last year, aircraft manufacturer Boeing attracted its retirees to help it achieve its production goals. In the banking sector, retirees are also called back to work because they are among the few to understand the language of the banking system.
Some retirees return to work to feel fulfilled. “You can’t keep going to Starbucks every day,” Lau says. “You have to find something to feel useful and to feel empowered and… give back to society in some way.”
Giving back is a feeling Kookie Rackley is familiar with.
After working for over 25 years as a firefighter in Florida, Rackley retired in 2005. But she knew she wasn’t retired, retired.
“I retired on a Friday,” she says. “The following Monday, I already had a full-time job waiting for me at the animal shelter.”
It wouldn’t be Rackley’s last job, either. Now 62, she works as a caregiver for the elderly through Home Rather, a career that has helped her pay for her house and feel personally rewarded. She can imagine retiring one day, but not for 90 years.
“You just feel like there is still so much that has been placed inside of you,” says Rackley. “There is still so much to offer. You can’t just go home. You have to go make a difference in someone else’s life.
The unsung dangers of non-retirement
There is a world between returning to work out of necessity and desire, and there are still some stark challenges. It is not easy for older workers and recent retirees to re-enter the labor market, because powerful forces like ageism still persist. There is also no guarantee that a company will provide the necessary flexible arrangement for, for example, caring for an aging parent. The people who need the job the most might not get it either. UK research. shows that non-retirement rates were not higher for participants with greater financial need.
There are also questions as to what will happen to people who are part of the so-called FIRE movement – where they live sparingly to retire young: will they have to retire out of necessity if the market falls? Will they have a hard time finding a job if their skills become obsolete? Or was undoing their retirement as part of the plan – retiring from the booth but not working on more fulfilling projects like blogging in a post on Mr. Money Mustache.
Only time will reveal the evolution of the puzzle.
For Agin, he put a period on his acting background years ago. (It was a bit boring to sit between takes, and concerts were often last minute, he says.) Now he spends his time traveling, taking his wife to doctor’s appointments, to meet his golf group and more. He’s glad he spent some time as a background actor, but he’s happy where he is. “I could go back there if I wanted to,” said Agin. “I think I did.”
He still has his stories. If you watch “The Path to War” you might catch a glimpse of it just as it positioned itself near Baldwin (a scene where the actors sing the kind of song where you move from side to side. ).
“I emerge every time he moves to the right,” Agin said. “And then when it moves to the left, it covers me.” But then he moves to the right and you can see me again. So I said ‘Yeah, you see. I entered the scene for sure. It was fun.”