BERRYVILLE — There has been a big jump in Clarke County residents who work past the traditional retirement age, according to an analysis of Census data by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Between 2009 and 2017, the percentage of people working beyond the age of 65 increased 13.2% in Clarke County — the biggest increase in Virginia and one of the largest spikes in the nation.
By comparison, the number of older residents staying in the workforce in Winchester decreased 4.3%, while Frederick County’s rate increased 3%.
For 71-year-old Dewey Sams, owner of Dewey’s Towing in the Clarke County town of Berryville, work is as much an economic necessity as a habit he’s unwilling to break.
“You can’t live on Social Security, I don’t care what you do,” Sams said. “But I’m not the kind to sit around on my butt.”
Sams still tows vehicles by himself, though he says the work is more physically demanding for him than it used to be.
He said he knows people throughout the area who are working past retirement age. He said some do it for the money, while others do it to stay busy, but he thinks most do it for both reasons.
Charles “Trip” Hardesty, 89, has owned Trips Auto Sales on Lord Fairfax Highway (U.S. 340) in Clarke County since New Year’s Day 1956. For him, working is a way to stay alive.
“If I were to quit right now, I wouldn’t live anytime,” he said. “I enjoy what I do. I deal with the public every day... I guess I’m a people person.”
Hardesty noted that Clarke County, population 14,508, has resisted commercial and residential growth in favor of retaining its agricultural character, so younger people are not moving in to fill jobs.
“We don’t have any population growth,” Hardesty said.
Clarke County Circuit Court Clerk Helen Butts, 80, said she keeps working for the love of her profession. She has worked at the courthouse for 56 years and served as court clerk for more than 22 years.
Butts said some seniors work not so much for the pay but for the health insurance benefits, which can help with the medical care they need. And some seniors just don’t want to give up their working lifestyle, she said.
“I would miss everyone,” Butts said about the prospect of retiring from her job. “I enjoy it.”