BISMARCK, N.D. – Seventy-year-old Darlene Neas, like a growing number of North Dakotans staying in the workforce after they reach 65, doesn't intend to stop working anytime soon.
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The former accountant, who is now a tour guide at the state Capitol, says she intends to work "as long as the Lord lets me."
U.S. Census Bureau figures show that of the roughly 52,000 people in the state age 65 or older in 2012, more than a third were working. Data show that for those age 65 to 69, the rate was nearly 50 percent. Men over 65 are more likely to work than women, and they typically work longer hours, according to an American Community Survey released by the federal agency this month.
U.S. Census figures show North Dakota seniors are more likely to hold jobs than the national average.
Monty Wood, an agency spokesman in Washington, D.C., said less than one-third of the 14.6 million people age 65-69 nationwide are working; and 16.7 percent people 65 and older have jobs.
"People in North Dakota just don't drop out of the workforce when they turn 65," said Kevin Iverson, manager of the census office at the state Commerce Department. "Some are staying in the game for economic reasons and some just don't feel like sitting on the couch and waiting to die."
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North Dakota's strong economy — led by the booming oil patch in the western part of the state — has resulted in more than 25,000 more jobs than takers and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at less than 3 percent. North Dakota also is leading the nation in population growth and has its highest population ever with more than 720,000 residents.
By 2020, officials estimate there will be more than 70,000 people over age 65 in North Dakota and even more seniors will remain in the workforce then — especially if filling jobs in the state remains difficult.
Rochelle Williams, a Bismarck-based employment training coordinator for the nonprofit job-training organization Experience Works, said the higher cost of living in the state has forced many seniors back into the workplace.
"North Dakota's economy hasn't really worked out for everyone in the state," she said. "There are still lots of folks still struggling and who haven't benefited from oil."
Williams' group helps dozens of seniors annually find jobs and offers computer training and other resources.
"Some of them come from farming backgrounds and have never worked outside of home or outside of farm," Williams said. "We try to get their skills up to date."
After being laid off from her job as an accountant at an insurance firm seven years ago, Neas got tired of doing little more than cleaning her home and "feeling useless." She didn't need the money, but took the tour guide job, a position that suits her energetic and outgoing nature. She's not planning to stop
"I like being around people and telling people about North Dakota," she said. "I have no plans to retire."