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REPORT after report has made abundantly clear that job growth is weak, but there’s one wide swath of the population where employment growth is going gangbusters: older Americans.

A record 7.2 million Americans age 65 and older are working double the number 15 years ago partly because many older Americans love to work and partly because many feel too financially squeezed to retire.

With the value of many 401(k)’s and homes taking a beating during the recession and with energy and health care prices climbing, many who dreamed that retirement was just around the corner have reluctantly kicked their retirement plans down the road.

While the overall number of Americans working has fallen by 4.4 million since the Great Recession began four and a half years ago with many dropping out of the work force in frustration and some retiring early the number of Americans 65 and older who are working has jumped by 1.4 million, a whopping 25 percent increase. Some work as doctors, some in retail, and some, with an entrepreneurial bent, start businesses in their 60s.

In a survey done last year, the Society of Actuaries found that 55 percent of older Americans who continued working said they had done so to stay active and involved, while 51 percent said they had done so for additional income.

“One obvious reason people are working later is money,” said Steven A. Sass, program director at the Boston College Center for Retirement Research. “There’s a concern about what they have in their 401(k) and about Social Security.”

He said baby boomers were getting less than their parents did from Social Security because of the increase in the full retirement age people cannot obtain full Social Security benefits until age 66, and for those born after 1957, the age will be 67. “Not only are they getting less from Social Security,” Mr. Sass said, “but many don’t have a pension that gives them a steady income after they retire.”

These factors help explain why 18.5 percent of Americans 65 and older remain in the labor force, up from 12.1 percent in 1995. Many have stayed in the work force past 60 because older Americans seem to be paying an ever larger share of their incomes toward medical expenses and because many corporations have stopped providing health coverage to retirees, forcing many to work until Medicare is available at 65.

“Maybe people have recovered from the stock market plunge,” said Sara E. Rix, a senior policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute. “But many people are still anxious about what may happen to the market, and that has caused many to delay retirement.”

Here are the stories of five Americans working well past age 65.

Patricia Cotton, 72

Home Care Aide

At age 72, Patricia Cotton toils 60 hours a week as a home care aide. Monday through Friday, she drives the 45 minutes from her home in Hyattsville, Md., to Washington to care for a 98 year old with heart disease and other problems.

“It’s hard because I have a lot of lifting to do,” said Ms. Cotton, who often bathes, turns over and changes her patient. “But I have no choice. I had hoped to retire at age 65. I was looking forward to it. But then I lost my money.”

Ms. Cotton, an immigrant from Trinidad,
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says she had faithfully put money every few weeks into her Individual Retirement Account, entrusting it to a broker.

“I lost about $150,000,” she said. “I’d been putting money into it the last 25 or 30 years. My broker had me in high risk investments. I didn’t pay much attention. lost half of its value money that had been intended to supplement her $1,200 a month Social Security check to enable her to retire at age 65.

“I thought he was going to do something better for me,” Ms. Cotton said. She was disappointed to discover that she had to pay almost half of that in tax and penalties.

“That left me all the way down,” she said. “When I lost my money, there was nothing else I could have done. I had to keep going.”

Ms. Cotton, a proud, divorced woman who has four children and seven grandchildren, lives on the second floor of a house that she fully paid off over 25 years. A daughter lives on the first floor, but Ms. Cotton refuses to take any money from her children.

“When you do something for so long, you get used to it,” she said. “But with that patient, you have to watch him constantly.”

She receives her monthly Social Security check and puts it in a safe money market account that will be her retirement nest egg.

But when will she retire? “I have to continue for a little while,” she said. “I just hope my health keeps up. So far it’s going pretty good.”

Dr. Rafael Garza, 87Dr. Rafael Garza vividly remembers the day he received his medical degree 62 years ago it was April 17, 1950, in Monterrey, Mexico. Today, at age 87, he is still going strong, having moved from the often joyous but frequently grueling practice of family medicine to focusing on wound care.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he does his rounds at Mission Regional Medical Center in Mission, Tex., in the Rio Grande Valley, treating bedsores, protecting burn victims from infections and helping diabetics who have had amputations.

“It seems that I always wanted to be a physician,” Dr. Garza said. “And now that I am a physician, I still enjoy practicing medicine.”
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