London — When Kevin Beazer joined Britain's state-owned Royal Mail 26 years ago, he was a 19-year-old just looking for a good job – and some security. The two companies he had worked for after leaving school went bankrupt amid the headstrong recession of the 1980s. "I was engaged and wanted to get a house," he says. "So I went to Royal Mail. It was always regarded as a job for life, and there was a good pension."
The future hasn't turned out to be quite as idyllic as he thought it would be. Royal Mail has changed dramatically over the years. Under pressure financially, the British version of the US Postal Service has cut back on its pension and other benefits. To get the same retirement pay at 60, which is when the 45-year-old was going to quit his mail duties, Beazer would now have to work until he is 63 or 64. "And that's assuming I would still have this job," he says.
Beazer, a former mail deliverer who now works in the mail center in Bristol, England, still plans to retire around 60. But he'll continue to work part time to boost his income. He has a son in college and a daughter who will be going next year. He thinks he might have to help them pay off loans.
He is scathing about the government and the management of Royal Mail, where a long-running dispute with employees over pay and working practices led to nationwide strikes last year. "I think we are going backwards to a position that will be far worse than the '80s," he says. "There is no such thing as a secure job, and it makes people feel vulnerable." Yasunori Izumi wants to work until he's at least 80 – in part because he wants to dote on his three grandchildren.
"What I live for is our grandchildren," says the cabdriver with a wide grin. "I'm happy to spend my salary on them."
Mr. Izumi has financial reasons to work well past normal retirement age as well. For 30 years, he ran a small rice shop in this industrial city south of Tokyo. Then, large supermarket chains expanded their business across the country, threatening small retailers like him.
Slowly but inexorably, his sales declined.
"It was a heartbreaking choice. But my wife suggested we give up before it was too late," Izumi says. "This is not an era when small retail shops can survive," given that big grocery firms are expanding their footprint nationwide.
Izumi had never thought of retiring. For one thing, he and his wife weren't sure they could get by on their pension. "That's the problem," he says.
Izumi calculates that he would receive only about 60,000 yen a month ($722) from the national pension program, while those who retire from a company get around 200,000 yen ($2,400).
When trying to get a job, many older people like him face limited choices because ageism is so rooted in Japanese society. They often have to settle for positions such as a security guard or cabdriver.
Izumi decided to get a taxi license when he was 64. It turns out he now earns more than he used to running the rice shop. The cabby, now 67, receives more than the average annual income in the Japanese taxi industry, which is around $30,000.
Izumi finds satisfaction in the interaction with his customers. He says he'd be content being a cabdriver for at least another decade. Nor does he mind cruising around this busy metropolitan city in the autumn of his life: He and his wife have long been intrepid travelers.
More than anything, though, he likes to spend time with his family – including those three grandchildren. "That has become an important part of my life," he says.
Donna Gainey grew up here in the picturesque fishing village of Bayou La Batre, Ala., – went to school only a mile away, married a local boy, and made the tiny City Hall on Wintzell Avenue her home away from home.
This is all she's known. All she's ever wanted to know. For 32 years, she's watched mayors and council members come and go, but still she remains. That suits her just fine.
She gazes at the city seal, which bears a hand-drawn image of a shirtless, barefooted shrimper hauling his catch aboard a boat. She was good with numbers. She could have gone anywhere. But she wanted to stay here. So much so that when she turned 62, two years ago, she decided to forgo retirement.
"I just love my job," says the city clerk, framing the words slowly. "I love people."
Of course, there are the job benefits to consider, and those weighed heavily in her choice to continue working. A decade ago, she battled breast cancer, and though she's well now, health insurance is important to her.
There's her granddaughter to consider as well. She and her husband, Lamar, are raising the 14-year-old. Even though the teen has lost her penchant for Aéropostale hoodies – mercifully – it's still expensive to raise a child in today's economy. Mr. Gainey supplements their income through his work as a security guard at a local medical center.
The couple could afford to retire, but Mrs. Gainey says working keeps them busy and provides money for extras, like a new car, as well as necessities like the escalating cost of home insurance along the Gulf Coast. They'd always planned to travel, but now they find there's nowhere they really want to be except the home they've built together and the jobs that have made up the tapestry of their lives.
Besides, work keeps her young, Gainey says. She enjoys the challenge of wrangling with new computer software, and she likes interacting with the 30-somethings that populate her office. She teaches them to balance spreadsheets; they teach her social-media skills. Recently, a younger co-worker helped her set up a Facebook account so she can stay in touch with her son, who is serving in Iraq.
"I'll probably retire in a few more years," she says. She watches Bayou La Batre's mayor, Stan Wright, shuffle to his office and smiles. He's 10 years younger than she is. "Then again, I might not. Since my health is good, I think I'm going to just keep working."