SACRAMENTO — Every weekday morning, Billie Marion walks a few blocks to the bus stop from the home she shares with her daughter. She commutes downtown, where she spends her days wrapping gifts in a tiny office at Grebitus & Sons jewelers.
She's 88, the daughter of a Methodist minister, a small, energetic woman whose one vanity seems to be fingernails manicured a bright shade of orange. Quite simply, she loves to work.
"I love my job," said Marion. "I've always loved it. I like working with my hands.
"I know I could retire. But I like being around people."
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Her daughter credits Marion's work ethic with keeping her youthful and involved.
"Work is what keeps her going," said Tricia Marion, 54. "Seeing some of her friends after they retire, it seems like they got older. Mom just keeps on ticking."
Retirement isn't for everyone, and that's probably just as well: The promise of pensions has largely vanished from the American economic landscape, and in tough times, retirement savings accounts have fizzled.
Research shows that large numbers of baby boomers — the oldest of whom reach the traditional retirement age of 65 next year — don't intend to follow earlier generations' footsteps into a long retirement. Some can't afford to; many others don't want to.
Besides, said AARP California's Christina Clem: "No one should tell you what your later years should be. That's up to you. Invent your own retirement."
Marion, a professional gift wrapper for 18 years who in her spare time takes computer classes and sings in her church choir, could be a role model for younger workers — a prime example of someone thriving well past retirement age.
So could Nancy Sadler, 81, who has owned Mad Hatters costume shop in Auburn, Calif., for 27 years.
"A woman came in one day and said, 'When I'm your age, I want to be just like you'," said Sadler, looking pleased at the idea.
She works six days a week, despite a handful of health issues that would slow down a less energetic person.
"If I sold the shop, I suppose I could retire," she said, but it's clear from her tone she's not interested in that option.
AARP studies show that the work force population age 65 and older has increased steadily since 1985. Now, more than 17 percent of that age group, up from not quite 11 percent, continue to work.
"One big reason is the money," said Clem. "It's nice to get a paycheck. Another reason is that some people are fortunate enough to really love their jobs.
Having a reason to get up and a place to go where you can make a difference really contributes to your quality of life."
The aging of the work force represents a significant social shift. Within the decade, according to the San Francisco think tank Civic Ventures, the double-whammy of people leaving work at normal retirement age plus much smaller generations of younger workers could mean that employees who want to continue working into their 70s and beyond will be especially valued.