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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Record inflation has many older Americans working longer than they had anticipated

Pension calculation concept, old hands counting finances on a home calculator , close- up
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Inflation hit a 40-year high in June, prompting some retirees to head back to work.

With inflation at a 40-year high and the worst stock market in decades, many Americans feel anxious. And for older adults living on fixed incomes, the astronomical rise in prices has delayed retirement plans and prompted some retirees to go back to work.

A little over a year ago, Dave Hade spent most days tending to his plants and visiting neighbors.

He lives in a close-knit, 55-plus mobile home community in Bradenton.

But these days, he's up most mornings at 6 to get ready for work.

"Well, let's get breakfast ready here,” he said with a laugh and a sip from a bottle of Mountain Dew.

After a jolt of caffeine, Hade typically pops open a can of tuna for his admittedly spoiled cat, Buddy.

"Usually when she hears that, she comes running,” he said. “I break it up for her cause that's what I do," he continued with a laugh.

Early-morning wakeup calls were certainly not part of Hade's retirement plans.

The 64-year-old opted into Social Security in November 2020, but says it wasn't long before skyrocketing prices forced him to pivot.

"I didn't want to dip into my 401(k) just to pay bills,” he said. "So, about Christmas, I was like, well after the first of the year, I better scare up a part-time job."

And he did, assembling small parts for a hydraulics company.

Jeff Johnson, the state director of AARP Florida, says Hade is not alone.

Inflation has many seniors rethinking whether they left their jobs — and salaries — too soon.

"What we've called the Great Resignation was in many respects, the Great Retirement,“ he said. “And now as costs have gone up, they look at the money that they had saved and realize that they're not sure if they can keep up. I recall back at the recession, 2008, 2009, we saw much of the same."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, grocery prices have risen just about 12% since this time last year.

"A year and a half ago, I wouldn't have thought about buying baked beans and stuff,” said Hade. “Now it's like, it’s cheap, it fills the empty spot up, I can get two meals out of a can."

And electricity is up almost 14%.

Hade says if he runs the AC a lot, his electric bill more than doubles.

He's also had to spend money updating his typical Florida retiree wardrobe of shorts and T-shirts.

"I had to get long pants for work, I didn't have any,” he said. “So, I went over to the outlet mall and stocked up on that stuff."

A recent study from Nationwide Retirement Institute shows more than one in 10 people near retirement age have already postponed — or are considering postponing — plans to retire.

But if there is any good news, it's this: there are lots of job openings.

Johnson says with employers hungry to hire, it's easier for older Americans to find work.

"There's certainly some pretty attractive opportunities to come back in as workers are (being offered) higher pay in many areas and more flexibility, which is also something that is pretty important to this generation," he said.

And he added, seniors could see returning to work as a short-term solution until prices stabilize.

Until that time comes, Hade says he'll keep on working. That's not all bad, because he likes his co-workers.

“The two people I work with, I couldn’t ask for any better,” he said. “It’s worked out really good.”

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.