Economy First Look

Why a 94-year-old McDonald's employee is celebrating 44 years on the job

Although she represents the extreme end of a trend, Loraine Maurer is not alone in postponing retirement and continuing to enjoy the world of work.

Loraine Maurer chats visits with customers at the N. Green River McDonald's location in Evansville, Ind, on Friday, March 24, 2017.
Alex Slitz/Evansville Courier & Press via AP
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As many Millennials are struggling to figure out their career paths, Loraine Maurer’s story may serve as an inspiration. 

Ms. Maurer, a 94-year-old great-grandmother from Indiana, celebrated 44 years of service at McDonald’s last Thursday. Yet, unlike many others born after her, she is still not retiring.

Maurer, who gets up at 3 a.m. for her 5 a.m. shifts on Fridays and Saturdays, has worked at several locations of the chain in Evansville, Ind., since 1973, when her husband retired due to a disability. 

Four of Maurer's adult children have since retired. But she says the relationships she has cultivated with her customers and coworkers have made it difficult to stop.

"I can't quit," Maurer told local news channel WFIE. "It's a reason to get up in the morning. The people are all nice."

Her work at the chain did not go unnoticed. Chip and Katie Kenworthy, the owners of the McDonald’s location where Maurer currently works, threw her a party to honor her contribution. 

“After all these years, she remains committed to serving her customers with one of the most delightful smiles around,” they said in a statement, according to People magazine. “Loraine has a loyal following of customers and they look forward to having her take their orders when visiting McDonald’s.”

Although Maurer’s story is somewhat unique, she is not alone in postponing retirement. Though she is part of the Greatest Generation, she may feel some kinship with many baby boomers, who – although the first of them became eligible for early retirement under social security about nine years ago – are reluctant to stop working. According to a Gallup poll in 2014, the generation of baby boomers account for 31 percent of the current workforce.

Women are becoming significantly more likely to work into their 60s and 70s, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study released in September. Some choose to continue working because they hope to stay actively engaged. For others, the generation's strong work ethic has made it hard for them to slow their pace. This motivation seems particularly powerful among women with higher education, especially those who have spent years building a career, Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz said in the paper. 

“They’re in occupations in which they really have an identity,” Dr. Goldin told The New York Times last month. “Women have more education, they’re in jobs that are more fulfilling, and they stay with them.”

For many, however, the decision to continue working has to do with financial concerns. Carrying too much debt and accruing too little in savings, together with pension and stock losses, have pushed many baby boomers to delay their retirement. The Gallup poll found that those who strongly disagreed with the statement that they currently “have enough money to do everything [they] want to do” expected to retire at a much later age (73) than those who strongly agreed with the statement (66). 

Continuing to work could also offer health benefits, according to a study published in March 2015 in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke. The sense of purpose derived from having a paid job, the researchers said, may offer protection from health problems linked to age, such as dementia, disability, and premature death. 

But as the average retirement age climbs higher, so do some job-related challenges. 

“We do not have enough institutionalized offerings like phased retirement programs and flexible work schedules,” Chris Farrell, a journalist who writes on economic issues, told Fast Company in 2016. “There are a lot of laws that make it difficult for companies to rehire part-time, former employees. There is a lot of underbrush to be cleaned out so that it becomes much simpler for people to keep working.”

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