RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Heres one fallout from the financial crisis and the recession: Last year nearly three million people started drawing Social Security retirement benefits. That's a lot more than government number crunchers expected and its because many older workers who lost their jobs have been unemployed so long, they're turning to Social Security earlier than planned.
NPR's Tamara Keith reports.
TAMARA KEITH: Jann Dolan is a school psychologist. At least she was until about 10 months ago, when she was laid off. She says she's applied for dozens of jobs, even those requiring far less education.
Ms. JANN DOLAN (Former School Psychologist): I had actually applied to a day care center. And this woman called me, the director of the day care center, and ended up telling me that, you know, I wasn't qualified for the job.
KEITH: She had always planned to keep working.
Ms. DOLAN: I really wanted to work until 70, which gives you a significant amount, you know, of more money. I'd obviously already be on Medicare, and contributing.
KEITH: Contributing, as in she still feels she has more to give to school kids who could use her help and wisdom.
But Dolan's plans have run up against a reality many older Americans are facing. At 63 years old, Dolan is uninsured and her unemployment checks will run out soon. So running out of options, she visited her local Social Security office.
Ms. DOLAN: I just never ever intended to take early retirement, for, you know, for a lot of reasons, for, you know, financial reasons, and it just was not my idea of what I wanted to do. It still is not my idea.
KEITH: For most, the full retirement age is currently 66. But people can start drawing Social Security as early as 62. Drawing early, however, cuts monthly payments.
Alicia Munnell is director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Ms. ALICIA MUNNELL (Center for Retirement Research at Boston College): One of the most powerful things you can do to have a secure retirement is to work longer. If you can claim your Social Security benefits at full retirement age instead of 62, you'll just be so much better off.
KEITH: Social Security had predicted there would be a 15 percent increase in retirement applications last year due to the arrival of the baby boom. Instead, the increase was 20 percent.
Mr. JASON FICHTNER (Chief Economist, Social Security Administration): So that's five percentage points more, or one-third more, than we originally forecast as an increase. That's a significant amount.
KEITH: Jason Fichtner is chief economist at the Social Security Administration. He says you might expect fewer people to retire early after the beating so many 401(k)s took when the markets crashed.
Mr. FICHTNER: But we also see that there are those people who at age 62 or 63 might have lost their jobs and find it harder to find new employment and decide to take retirement benefits earlier. And on net right now there seems to be more people filing for early benefits than delaying.
KEITH: Just to be clear, these early filings won't affect the long term health of Social Security, because over a lifetime the payouts are actuarially the same. And another thing: Just because someone starts drawing Social Security doesn't mean they should give up on finding work, says Jean Setzfand, the director of financial security at AARP.
Ms. JEAN SETZFAND (AARP): Tap into Social Security, continue to look for a job. Once you find the job, stop taking Social Security. You can either pay it back and/or just stop and then continue to build your credits so that you can build up for a higher benefit.
KEITH: In other words, if you decide to file for Social Security early, you still have options. So don't assume that just because you've received a few checks you're locked into lower payments for life.
Bob Daly is hoping to get back into the workforce, even though he started drawing Social Security right when he turned 62.
Mr. BOB DALY: You know, I'd still rather be working is basically what it comes down to.
KEITH: He was laid off from his job in international logistics about a year ago and needed the Social Security checks to help pay the bills.
He's still looking for jobs in his field, forcing himself to get on the computer every day and search the job boards.
Mr. DALY: I believe it's going to happen, you know. If not, you know, c'est la vie, but you know, I truly believe that it will happen, that I can stand there and say thank you very much, Uncle Sam, but I'll wait a little longer.
KEITH: And Social Security would be happy to suspend the payments.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.
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