By Marcia Pledger The Plain Dealer, Cleveland
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Two decades ago, less than one-third of people age 55 and over were employed or looking for work. Today, it's 40 percent.
For some Baby Boomers, just being able to get online might seem like cause for celebration.
Then there's Rosemarie "Cookie" Krizmanich. At 61, she started her fourth career; this time working as an IT business systems analyst.
Krizmanich is not alone. With the average age of retirement rising, many people over 50 may have 15, 20, or even 30 years of working life left. For many, like Krizmanich, finances dictate that she keep working. And like many others, she's doing so, but in a new career.
Her first two careers, as a medical technician at a Kaiser hospital, and as a journalist at CNN in its infancy, didn't have good retirement plans. At the time, CNN had no plan and after 10 years at Kaiser, she was only vested for two of them.
"If I took that in a payment plan when eligible, I would get about $20 a month," she said, noting that she did invest in 401k plans at various jobs, but feared uncertainty in the stock market and not having enough money to live on with limited savings and a small Social Security check. Krizmanich is single, with no children.
Two decades ago, less than one-third of people age 55 and over were employed or looking for work. Today, it's 40 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number, known as a labor force participation rate, is expected to increase fastest for the oldest segments of the population: most notably, people ages 65 to 74, and 75 and older, through 2024.
The year before Progressive Insurance hired Krizmanich, she didn't know anything about navigating the back-end of technology. She was working as a nursery consultant and master gardener at Home Depot in Brooklyn Heights, where she still works on weekends.
Krizmanich had no intention of starting a new career in June 2016, until she read a newspaper article about a man who started a coding boot camp in Akron.
"I didn't even know what code was," said Krizmanich, 63. "But the final paragraph said that, 'If you like to problem solve, are creative and tenacious,' you might like coding. I felt I was all those things, so I applied and was accepted."
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than a half-million men and women over 50 are part-or full-time students in undergraduate and graduate programs in the country. Many more seniors engage in training programs and other vocational education.
Anthony Hughes, CEO of TechElevator in Cleveland, where Krizmanich graduated in 2016, said the average age of students who participate in his coding camp is about 30 years old. About 10 percent of the coding camp's students are over age 40.
"When you consider the need to recoup your investment in education, not only the total cost, but also the opportunity cost associated with time, short-form programs like ours lend themselves well to getting a return that can be meaningful, even more so when you have less years available before retirement."
Krizmanich agrees. But time and money are only part of such a major decision.
She said her father, who was 92 at the time, discouraged her from going back to school so late in life.
"He was a tool-and-die designer and was laid off many times during his working years because of downturns in the economy and [he was] never able to get seniority for that reason. So longevity at a job was something he cherished," she said.
But she's glad she decided to invest in herself again.
"I recognized I couldn't live on Social Security alone, and I couldn't work with the physical demands of working at Home Depot.
"Thankfully, Progressive doesn't see age. They see experience." she said.
Jane Gundlach, an IT Manager at Progressive, said that Krizmanich's background with varied experiences made her an attractive talent to join the company.
"This is why we like hiring from bootcamps, because we find people with diverse and varied backgrounds, and they bring their unique experiences into our organization," Gundlach said. "That diversity of thought and background helps us solve business problems in new and different ways."
Workers ages 55 and older were employed across many occupations in 2016, according to BLS. More than 42 percent of these workers were in management, professional and related occupations, a somewhat higher proportion than that for all workers.
"I love my job. It's probably the job I should have had 20 years ago," Krizmanich said. "My job [as an analyst] is basically to translate what the business wants into language that the coders can understand. It allows them a chance to write the code."
Krizmanich said her previous career experience has helped her in her current role.
"I recognized halfway through the class that coding and being a developer was probably not going to be my path. An analyst role would better utilize my skills and background," she said.
Krizmanich started her career working as a certified lab technician and eventually moved on to working as a videotape editor for CNN in 1985, when the network was just five years old.
"I worked at CNN from 1985 to 1996 and covered a lot of major stories, from the pull out of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, to the first Gulf War in Baghdad with Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett; Columbian drug wars; and Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti; to Hurricane Andrew and the Oklahoma City bombing.
"Every step in my career path was financed by the career before it. Although it took me longer to finish college, I was earning money, getting benefits and taking vacations, and working at things and hobbies that interested me, all which I think, eventually made me a well-rounded person," she said.
Krizmanich said that because she didn't work for companies that offered pension plans early in her career, by the time she was in her 50's she grew increasingly concerned about not having enough money to retire on.
About a decade ago, before she made the decision to try tech as a new career, her back-up plan was finding a cheaper place to live in her retirement years.
She bought a house and a barn for $7,000 on an acre of land in Croatia, her father's homeland.
"I knew that I could easily live on about $1,000 a month Social Security in Croatia if I couldn't find a better paying job, or all my investments tanked."
That was before she started her new career in technology.