Fewer retired workers are volunteering to help with tax preparation programs organized by the AARP in south-central Idaho.

That's because many retirees are returning to the workforce after their 401(k)s and fixed incomes fell victim to one of the worst recessions in history. As retired workers spend more time meeting their own financial obligations, it's leaving a void among volunteer programs that rely on actively retired citizens.

In 2007, more than 33 percent of men aged 65 and older in Idaho were employed in 2007, compared with 27 percent in 1995 and

26 percent in 1990, according to the most recent report by Idaho Department of Labor. More than 26 percent of women 65 and older in Idaho were working in 2007, compared with 17 percent in 1995 and 1990.

That poses a problem for volunteer services like the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program, which provides free tax preparation for anyone with a desire to make amends with the tax-man.

"We really started seeing fewer volunteers last year," said Fred Ripley, state coordinator for AARP Tax Aide. "In fact, last year was the first year that we didn't have any tax preparation sites open in the Rupert area - there just wasn't enough people to operate it."

He also said tax preparation sites in Hailey, Burley and Jerome have been hurting for volunteers.

That poses a problem for people like Marlene Lovett, 86, from Burley, who relies on the AARP to helper her with her taxes.

"Ever since my husband passed away, I've been trying to handle my finances," she said. "But I can't make heads-or-tales of this stuff, so I really do look to (the AARP) for help."

The AARP Tax-Aide Program is the largest free tax preparation program in the nation - with more than 32,000 volunteers. During the 2008 tax season, there were 49 volunteers in the eight-county area of south-central Idaho that helped file more than 4,160 federal tax returns from 16 locations.

Federal returns in 2008 totaled $4.2 million, Ripley said.

Part of the challenge facing the AARP is the training that is required to prepare volunteers. Volunteers train for a total of 24 hours over a four-day period before helping taxpayers. Then there is the matter of committing 40 volunteer hour during tax season.

"Believe it or not, the volunteers we have enjoy what they do - they enjoy preparing taxes," Ripley said. "It's something that helps them give back to the community and stay active."

However, therein lies the problem.

An increasing number of retirees are staying active with part- or full-time jobs - something they now need to meet their own financial obligations.

The problem isn't isolated to southern Idaho, say regional officers of the AARP.

Sara Rix, a strategic policy adviser for AARP, says dwindling nest eggs are pushing older workers to try to stay in the workforce longer.

"Workers age 55 to 64 are particularly vulnerable," she says. "In previous recessions when older workers have lost their jobs, more were covered by defined-benefit pension plans and less reliant on their own savings and 401(k) and defined-contribution plans."

Nationwide, as many as 9.5 million retired Americans are considering at least a partial return to the workforce, according to a study released earlier this week by Charles Schwab. The study also found that 32 percent of people aged 65 or older plan to delay retirement.

Joshua Palmer may be reached at jpalmer@magicvalley.com





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