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NEW YORK (Reuters) - An 82-year-old real estate agent with severe arthritis and two artificial hips thought she would be retired by now, while a professor 25 years her junior wonders if he will ever stop working.
With stock portfolios shrinking in recent weeks, and house values sinking over the past year, many older Americans still on the job say they see no end in sight.
A majority of Americans have long said they expect to work past retirement age and now, with the financial crisis, their numbers are bound to grow, experts say.
Even before the crisis, 70 percent of older workers surveyed last year planned to work into their retirement years, research released this week by the AARP lobbying and advocacy group for older Americans showed. A need for money was the most common reason they cited.
"There's a lot of reasons for people to be less secure in retirement than they were 20 years ago or even 20 days ago," said Richard Johnson, researcher at the Urban Institute in Washington.
"This is a long-term change that we're seeing and of course it's really been magnified in the past month," he said.
While no up-to-the-minute data is available to show just how many more older workers will be staying on the job, there's little doubt more will make that decision, said Deborah Russell, director of work-force issues at AARP.
"With people's knee-jerk reaction in looking at both the economy and looking at their own finances, working longer may be the only way to get themselves to remain financially secure," she said.
The consequences for the workplace may be significant as more people stick around longer, experts say. One concern is older workers may be more costly in terms of salary and benefits, they say.
Another effect is the so-called gray ceiling, where older people are not leaving and ceding top jobs to younger workers, Johnson said.
"A lot of younger people are waiting for those good jobs," he said. "To the extent that older people are not giving up those jobs, that's going to cause problems."
For older workers such as the elderly real estate agent, being unable to retire is a poignant disappointment. And it's one she does not want her neighbors in New Canaan, Connecticut, to know about, so she did not want her name used.
"I believed I had a good amount of security. Now I have a nominal amount of security," said the widow. "The added problem that my generation has is that we can't wait for a recovery. I may not be here when the recovery comes."
In Boone, North Carolina, Mike Dotson, 57, said he can barely imagine retiring, thanks to his shrinking investments on top of years paying college tuition for his son.
So, he said, it's a good thing he likes his job as a professor of marketing at Appalachian State University where he has been for 25 years.
"My rule has always been, as long as it feels good, you keep doing it," he said.
Staying on the job is the one thing people can do in the light of the financial chaos, said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
"Control what you can control. We can't do much about the craziness in the market, but you certainly can control, in many cases, how long you're going to work," she said. "That is actually the most potent way of improving your situation."
"We thought that was the right answer even before the financial crisis," she added. "Everything has just intensified since then."
Older workers should make clear to their employers that they want to keep working, she advised. "Don't look like a person who is just reading Florida brochures."
Editing by Vicki Allen