HARVEY Vera Risovi has been coming to work at St. Aloisius Medical Center in Harvey for the past 27 years.
The 82-year-old nursing assistant limits the hours of her job in the hospital's long-term care center to three days a week, not because of her age but to spend more time at home caring for her husband.
"I like to work," said Risovi, who doesn't plan to retire from the nursing home until the day she moves in.
Jill Schramm/MDN •
Older workers play a key role at St. Aloisius Medical Center. Shown at the center Dec. 11 are, from left, (front) Shirley Leintz, Victorina May, Patty Sauter and Isabella Goldade, (back) Dorothy Baltrusch, Harriet Gunderson, Vera Risovi, Irene Eisenbeisz, Kathy Rademacher, Carol Martin and Marva Ness.
Wells County has the highest percentage of people aged 65 and older in its workforce at 7.9 percent, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau and Job Service North Dakota.
Statewide, 13.6 percent of workers were 55 and older and 3.3 percent were 65 and older in 2004, which was the year analyzed in the report.
The study didn't include federal workers or the self-employed. Even with that limitation, the study says a lot about the future workforce, said Richard Rathge, director of the State Data Center in Fargo.
Highlights of the N.D. Local Employment Dynamics report:
- The number of people aged 65 and older will increase to one in five by 2030.
- 20 percent of the workforce is 55 or older in 20 of North Dakota's 53 counties.
- Statewide, 13.6 percent of workers are 55 and older and 3.3 percent of workers are 65 and older.
- A higher percentage of the workforce in rural areas compared to urban areas is older than age 55.
- Real estate and rental and leasing has the highest proportion of workers aged 55 and older with 22 percent of its workforce in that category. Health care and social assistance is second with 21.6 percent.
- The industry sector with the largest gain in jobs in 2004 for workers 55 to 64 years old was construction. The most jobs lost for that age group was in retail trade, which was the largest area of job gain for workers 65 and older.
- Statewide, on average, workers 55 and older earned $2,670 a month in 2004. The highest paid older workers were in the utilities sector.
The full report can be found at (www.census.gov) using the search tool for North Dakota older workers.
In 2000, there were 183,435 North Dakotans aged 35 to 54 and 94,478 people aged 65 and older. By 2020, residents aged 35 to 54 the prime working age will have shrunk to about 146,000 people, while the 65-plus will have ballooned to 150,000 people.
This is significant, Rathge said, because 82 percent of people aged 35 to 54 were in the workforce in 2000, compared to 15 percent of people aged 65 and older.
"The consequence is going to be kind of a labor crunch unless people stay in the labor force, and we are starting to see that," he said.
About 10.3 percent of employees are age 65 or older at St. Aloisius, one of the major employers in Wells County.
Administrator Rocky Zastoupil said the medical center retains its older workers by being flexible and "working on their terms." If employees need more part-time hours because they can't be on their feet as long or if they need a different type of health-care benefit to complement Medicare, the center will accommodate those changes.
At the same time, Zastoupil said, the hospital is focused on attracting younger workers to eventually replace the older ones. About 46.5 percent of employees are age 45 or older.
"Numbers are a little scary," Zastoupil said. "I would say employees who have been here 11 years or more would make up probably 30 percent of our workforce."
Recruiting new blood isn't the total answer, either, because as the population ages, the competition for a limited number of younger workers will be stiff. So St. Aloisius is working with other health-care facilities in its corporation and through affiliations with other regional hospitals to share employees.
"That's going to have to happen. There's going to be more of a collaboration," Zastoupil said.
Older workers at St. Aloisius work for a variety of reasons. They say Social Security income isn't enough to live on, and the rising cost of living and shrinking retirement accounts only add to the impetus to stay in the workforce.
In addition, they like their jobs and have formed friendships with co-workers and the residents of the nursing home portion of the facility.
They feel needed, not only by the people they serve but by the medical center itself. Workers are hard to come by in the rural community.
"We just can't get enough help," said Shirley Leintz, who feels a need to stay with the dietary department where she's already worked for 36 years.
The work ethnic of the older generation is a tough act to follow, too.
"Most of us were probably raised on a farm and we grew up with hard work," said employee Irene Eisenbeisz.
In fact, compared to milking cows, the seniors say, they consider their jobs a blessing.
"I really don't know what it would be like not to work," said Marva Ness, who joined the workforce at age 16. "I think about retiring but the days get awfully long."
Ruby Hinsz of Harvey, who coordinates the local Experience Works program, said the number of seniors seeking jobs through the program tends to fluctuate. Often seniors are finding jobs on their own or stick with the employment that they've had for years, she said.
If the self-employed were included in the census figures, the percentage of older workers in Wells County would be even higher because of the number of aging farmers.
"Farmers don't give up easily," Hinsz said. "They tend to stay with it until they can't anymore."
The occupations that attract the most older workers are real estate fields.
Carrie Montoya, president, Minot Board of Realtors, estimated 60 percent of the group's Realtors are 55 and older. Several are in their 80s.
For many, it's a second or third career. It's an ideal field because they bring a maturity and an experience with customer service that creates a sense of trust in the clients, Montoya said. They also have developed contacts in the community over the years that are essential to the job, she said.
D.J. McIntyre, customer service manager at Job Service in Minot, sees more older workers seeking jobs. A recent inquiry came from a 78-year-old looking for a truck driving job.
"Most often, we are seeing those people in their early 60s. They are finding that they need to go back or they just want to because they have tried retirement for a year or so and got kind of bored and are ready to do something else," McIntyre said. "It's more than just finances. It's being out and about. It's being involved. It's having the stimulation. People aren't quite ready to sit on the porch."
Some companies tap into the knowledge of retirees by hiring them for special projects, she said. Other retirees are drawn back into the workforce by jobs that they consider fun, such as working at craft stores or bakeries.
More seniors are entering jobs traditionally dominated by teenagers, creating interesting multi-generational dynamics, she said.
Don Hummel, owner of Minot's Burger King restaurants, said the company is hiring few older workers but it is retaining more employees into their 50s and 60s.
"Older workers are working longer," he said.
Dave Bussard, Wal-Mart manager, said older workers typically want part-time hours and shorter work days. With Wal-Mart's always-open operation, it's easy to accommodate them, and it's really the employees who are doing the store a favor in filling those slots, he said.
In the tight employee market, he said, "They are filling a void that we truly have."
McIntyre said more businesses are offering job flexibility that attracts older workers, but more adjustments will be needed to lure enough people from retirement to satisfy the future job market.
Rathge said future demographics don't have to be problematic if employers are willing to make the changes needed to retain older workers. But the study shows there's no time to waste.
"It's gotten to the time where we have to react rather than be proactive," he said.