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Recession Survivors: Where Are They Now?

7 older Americans make a comeback — but barely

Frank Wilkinson lost  his pension as a pilot and his ability to retire

— Photo by José Mandojana

Frank Wilkinson, 91, Clearwater, Fla.

  • The pension that evaporated
  • Former pilot works long and hard into his 90s

As a young airline pilot, Frank Wilkinson imagined he'd eventually retire in comfort on a $120,000-a-year pension. That didn't happen. His airline went bankrupt, taking his pension with it.

So he's worked through his older years, and today, at 91, toils at his two part-time businesses.

"As I get older, my medical expenses will increase; that just happens. I want to be prepared. I'd rather be in a stronger financial position when that happens," Wilkinson says. "But I like to stay busy, too."

His primary business is aimed at his condo complex's snowbirds, people who live in Florida in winter and go north in summer. He charges a weekly or monthly fee to make sure their units are secure while they're away — checking whether water valves are turned off, windows and doors are locked. In his other business, he helps small companies find ways to save money. He collects half of the amount he saves them in a year.

"I saved one company $3,000 because they were paying too much for liability insurance," he says.

Wilkinson worked for about nine years at a senior employment program administered by the AARP Foundation. He left that job in late 2009 and went to work in January 2010 for the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce, helping mostly tourists navigate the sights of Florida. The hours were long as he helped as many as 240 people a day. "It took a toll on me," he says, and he quit four months later.

Now he concentrates on his businesses. "Everything goes up — maintenance fees go up, taxes go up. I've got to supplement my income."

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin. Brooke Self contributed to this story.

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