For Peggy Morris, age is just a number
For three, 12-hour night shifts a week, Peggy Morris does what she loves – even if it is out of necessity.
She’s a nurse at Carson Tahoe Regional Healthcare in Carson City where she tends to patients in the hospital’s medical and oncology ward. In her sneakers and patterned scrubs, Morris makes her rounds and spends most of her shifts on her feet.
She’s also come to expect her patients to ask her age.
“They question me all the time,” Morris said. “They’re curious, they know I’m older. I mean I know I’m not as young as the other nurses, I’m older than the other nurses and they can see that. They don’t know how old I am, but when I tell them how old I am it’s amazing. The reactions I get because they look at me like, ‘you’re kidding me.’ “
For the record, Morris is 81.
“I don’t mind telling anybody,” she said. “I don’t volunteer it unless they ask, but if they ask I’ll tell them. Why not? I don’t have anything to hide, it’s not going to affect my job any.”
Morris is a member of the growing number of Americans working later into life. In fact, workers who are 65 and older are expected to makeup 6.1 percent of the U.S. labor force by 2016, up from 3.6 percent in 2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s an increase of more than 80 percent.
The trend is true in Nevada, where the number of workers older than 65 grew by 48 percent from 2000 to 2010, more than any other group in the labor force in the last 10 years.
“From an employment basis, folks who are 65 or older their employment grew faster than the state as a whole through the better part of the last decade and even now,” said Jered McDonald, an economist with the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation in Nevada.
Meanwhile, the number of younger workers are not keeping up with their older counterparts, according to DETR. The percentage of workers between the ages of 14 and 18 in Nevada’s workforce fell by 28 percent from 2000 to 2010 while workers between 25 and 34 fell 1.1 percent and those between 35 and 44 feel by 7 percent.
The reasons for the increase in older workers are varied, including strained pensions and longer lifespans that are stressing personal savings for retirement. And the trend is only expected to increase with 2011 marking the first round of Baby Boomers turning 65.
Despite her dreams of a career in nursing, Morris married at 18 and worked as a waitress at a south Florida seafood restaurant while raising six children.
“I sewed day and night most of the time,” she said. “They always looked nice. I was a very good seamstress. I even made clothes for my boy. When he was 16 I made him a complete suit: Coat, vest and pants.”
By the time her husband had retired, she had stopped waitressing and they were spending day in and day out together with some occasional traveling. The children were gone and life had grown monotonous, she said.
“I said, well one of us ought to be working,” Morris said.
That’s when she decided to start her nursing career, entering nursing school at age 57, nearly 25 years ago.
She graduated in 1991 at the top of her class and went on to become a registered nurse. By the mid-1990s, her husband had developed Alzheimer’s disease and suddenly died after an acute illness. That’s when she decided to move out West to be among the mountains.
Morris said money had always been tight, so when she came to Carson City she lived in her motor home for a year.
“I was living on $600 a month,” she said. “That was back in 1995.”
She eventually bought land at Topaz Ranch Estates, 43 miles south of the capital where she built a home. She still lives there today.
After a stint at a home care company in Yerington, Morris found work at Carson Tahoe Regional Healthcare in 1998. Thirteen years later, Morris said she didn’t figure she’d be working this long into her life, but it’s also something she enjoys regardless of the regular visits to the chiropractor to relieve her aching back.
“Part of it is the fact I want to (work), and part of it is the fact I really need to work because I wouldn’t have enough money to live,” Morris said. “I mean, I have Social Security, but they’re going to cut that down. They’re going to cut it down more, that’s what I’m afraid of.”
Elliott Parker, the chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Nevada, Reno, said he has a friend in Seattle who is in her late 70s and still works as a nurse. He said it’s another example of the major demographic changes facing the United States and other developed nations.
“As people live longer, healthier lives and especially for people who either need the money or really loved what they did you’re going to see more people stay in the workforce,” Parker said. “It will become more common.”
Meanwhile, as people live longer they are finding it more and more difficult to survive on fixed incomes alone such as Social Security, which was created when the average life expectancy was just 65.
“When we created Medicare, it was a little bit higher, still we didn’t plan for rising medical costs … in part due to improving medical care that life expectancy would rise as fast,” Parker said.
That has meant an increasing burdens on people trying to save for retirement.
But for Morris, work is more than just a paycheck.
“By working I have contact with people, it gives me something to do. It gives me money,” she said. “I like to get out and travel when I can. I like to do my hobbies, but they cost money.”
Morris adds, “The girls I work with, they shake their heads at me. ‘I don’t know how you do that? How do you do that?’ They’re having a hard time dealing with work. It’s all in attitude, if you want to do something, you make up your mind to do it and you do it. That’s the way I feel about things. Your attitude makes a big difference.”
Source: Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation