Unretired

Some pandemic retirees have gone back to work. Inflation, little savings and the worker shortage could be driving the change.

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 5/18/22

NATIONWIDE — For years, there was a push to encourage seniors to work. Working added to retirement income, it got seniors out of the house and interacting with people, and it might even stave …

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Unretired

Some pandemic retirees have gone back to work. Inflation, little savings and the worker shortage could be driving the change.

Posted

NATIONWIDE — For years, there was a push to encourage seniors to work. Working added to retirement income, it got seniors out of the house and interacting with people, and it might even stave off chronic disease.

All that changed in the pandemic, when about 1.7 million more older workers than would be expected dropped out of the workforce by June 2021, according to Owen Davis et al. at the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA).

Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed Hiring Lab, suggested in April that the retired were coming back at a rate of 3.2 percent. A report in May specified that the younger early retirees are returning to work in force. Those are people aged 55 to 64. They’d experienced upwards of a four percent decline in employment from March 2020 to November 2021.

A college degree mattered

“Older workers faced more health risks and disproportionate job loss during the pandemic,” Davis and colleagues wrote. And so those folks quit. The increase came mainly from people aged 65 and up. But adults without college degrees retired as early as age 55.

This, the SCEPA team wrote, was a serious problem.

“The typical worker in this group was not financially prepared for retirement before the pandemic. Older workers without a college degree had median household retirement savings of only $9,000 in 2019, compared to $167,000 for older working households with a college degree.”

And that’s the median; half had less money.

For Black adults aged 55-64 without a college degree, the likelihood of being retired increased 9.2 percent, compared to an increase of 7.5 percent for white non-college-educated adults.

College-educated workers over 65 were more likely to retire early in the pandemic.

So why are people coming back?

Bunker found that 62 percent of workers aged 55 to 64 had a job in April. In third-quarter 2021, half of that age group was out of the workforce.

He suggested that a mix of “waning concerns about the pandemic and faster inflation” were likely involved. “But it’s not clear that they are the main reasons.”

Sometimes it’s the former bosses who want retirees back. The job search platform Resume Builder found that 20 percent of retirees said they’d been asked to come back. (And 59 percent said they’d look for work elsewhere.)

But for all the positive news, ageism is still an issue. A 2020 survey from AARP found that 78 percent of workers had experienced age discrimination, and rates were similar between races and gender.

Sources: health.harvard.edu, pewresearch.org, benefitnews.com, aarp.org.

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