Jeffrey Bell, 58, of West Liberty, has stage 4 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, severe respiratory failure that requires him to use a 24-hour oxygen machine and prevents him from working. Much of his expensive medical expenses for this disease, known as COPD, are not covered by Medicare.

For example, his wife, Debby Bell, 59, uses her health benefits as an employee of the University of Iowa to cover the cost of Jeffrey's medical exams, prescriptions, and medical devices that provide medical care. oxygen and stimulate normal breathing. A prescription is for an inhaler that costs more than $ 500 a month. Reviews are required every six months and include an echocardiogram costing $ 1,500.

"There is no way for a normal person to pay for this," said Bell. "Even someone with a job much better than mine … you could go broke very quickly."

Bell is one of many Iowans who are approaching retirement age, resulting in an increase in the number of older workers. Many of them remain in the labor market because of the high cost of health care that their savings can not cover. The Pew Research Center reports that 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age each day.

The youngest begin to retire at age 54, according to the Seniors Advocacy Group, AARP. But most do not leave the job market. The number of baby boomers in the labor market shows a steady 4.5% increase since 2014, reports the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 9.7 million Americans aged 65 and over were part of the US labor force, the US Census Bureau reported last year.

Without the health benefits of Debby Bell's employment at the University of Iowa's Burge Market Place, the couple would not have been able to pay their mortgage or utility bills, did they? she said. She is nearing retirement, but fears that this is not an option if she does not have decent health insurance to supplement Medicare and cover prescription drugs for her and her husband.

"The assurance we have here at the university is very important – that's fine," said Bell, who has been with the UI since 1983. "And if that was not the case, we would probably have been homeless. We should have gotten rid of our house and sold everything we had because of medical bills. "

Bell is part of the baby boom generation born between 1946 and 1965 after the Second World War. Since then, health care options in the United States have grown considerably, allowing people to live longer and healthier lives.

The age of retirement is relatively subjective and, although most pension plans in the United States set the bar of 65, the country's largest seniors' advocacy organization, AARP, allows people to join at age 50. Social Security pension benefits start only at age 62. and the full benefits are not achieved until the age of 66 years.


A drop in pension funds after the 2008 economic downturn has sparked real concerns about baby boomers' life savings, said Cal Halvorsen, an assistant professor of social work at Boston College. Halvorsen studies the experiences and results of individuals who work later in their lives.

"Together, you should have a secure savings fund," said Halvorsen. "Pension funds are in decline, however, and seniors must rely on their personal savings and social security. Some of these people live in poverty and are forced to re-enter the labor market. "

Although Debby Bell works to pay for her husband's health care, she added that she also appreciated her work. Working at one of the university's restaurants, Bell has discovered a new experience and a diversity of people she appreciates.

But Bell said she did not have the luxury of tapping into her personal savings, because that money allowed her to take care of her husband's illness. Jeffrey uses a 24-hour oxygen defibrillator to ensure that his respiratory system does not spoil him, helping to maintain his codependency on the drugs and medical equipment needed to keep him alive and well. keep him healthy.

Sara Sanders, UI professor and director of the School of Social Work, said that most of the older workers she met in social work work because of poverty. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 209,000 Americans aged 65 and over were working in 2017, the last year for which data are available because they could not afford to stop working.

According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 7 million people over the age of 60 in the United States live below the poverty line. Many of these older workers who accept jobs to pay bills are also caregivers, Sanders said.

Sanders spoke about an 83-year-old woman in Harvey, a suburb of Chicago. She was still working because she had no other choice in terms of financial support. If she quit smoking, she would face imminent poverty, homelessness and hunger, Sanders said.

The woman never had a pension or access to retirement. As a mother of seven, the woman was pushing herself to be the sole provider of some of the children who had been imprisoned and released from prison.


The increase in the number of older workers in the labor market has suggested that they would replace younger workers. According to a report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers aged 65 to 74 are expected to increase by 4.5% and workers aged 16 to 24 years to contract. 1.4 percent. But older workers do not take jobs from the younger ones, said John Solow, chairman of the economics department at the University of Iowa.

Solow said the decline in the number of young workers was due to the country's declining birth rate and the longer wait for women to have children. The recovery in employment since the Great Recession of 2008 and the growth in the supply of older workers to fill jobs is fueling the job market, he said.

Rosemary Thierer, Head of Administration and Recruitment at the Iowa Department, said that ageism already existed on the job market, 40% of people aged 50 to 60 years and wishing remain unemployed 12 months after being laid off.

"People have a lot of preconceived ideas about what older people can or can not do, such as the inability to use technology," Thierer said. "If you're 50, you probably will not leave until 10 to 15 years later, because you have to work longer to get the most out of their social security benefits."

Thierer said that baby boomers had basic jobs in sales and restaurants, earning $ 7.25 an hour, and that they could not afford to retire. In the meantime, she added, Iowa is desperate for the workers.

While the unemployment rate in Iowa was 2.4% at the end of 2018, the average age of a worker in Iowa is above the national average, according to the Center on Aging and Work. This means that older workers not only work longer, but represent the largest employer market in Iowa, with a participation rate of 66.8%.

"One of the reasons McDonald's (chooses) to pick older workers is that they show up," Thierer said. "Older workers are more reliable than younger workers and can have a positive influence on younger workers. It is important for all generations to work together in the workforce because they can all learn from each other. "

This story was a collaboration of the Daily Iowan and IowaWatch, a non-profit online news site that works with news agencies to produce storytelling and investigative reporting. More information on