Retirements have jumped during the pandemic, but many workers are finding jobs

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Millions of older Americans have stopped working during the pandemic, far more than usual, fueling fears the workforce has been permanently altered, but the country is on the verge of closing the gap in early retirement, according to new data.

An estimated 1.5 million retirees have re-entered the U.S. workforce over the past year, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed. That means the economy has offset most of the additional retiree losses since February 2020, according to analysis by The Washington Post.

Many retirees are sent back to work through a combination of lower covid concerns and more flexible working arrangements at a time when employers desperately need workers. In some cases, workers say rising costs — and the inability to keep up with a fixed income — are also a big factor in their decisions.

The April jobs report to be released on Friday is expected to show more workers, in general, joining the labor market, but the strong comeback of retirees is considered somewhat unexpected and even fortunate given the record 11.5 million job offers in March.

Jerry Munoz recently returned to full-time work at a San Diego pharmaceutical company after a decade of retirement. He had become nervous staying home during the pandemic and said he felt safe returning to the office after receiving the coronavirus vaccine and booster. The extra pay from his new position as a security consultant has also helped: he and his wife recently bought a rental house with the money.

“Covid made me think about a lot of things and I felt like I was wasting my skills and knowledge,” the 64-year-old said. “I told my wife that as long as I’m healthy enough, I’ll probably work another two years.”

According to Miguel Faria-e-Castro, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The percentage of retirees returning to work has surged in recent months, hitting a pandemic high of 3.2% in March, according to Indeed. In interviews with nearly a dozen workers who recently “unretired,” many said they felt comfortable returning to work now that they had received the coronavirus vaccine and reminders. Almost all said they had accepted more accommodating jobs. their needs, whether it’s being able to work remotely, travel less or set their own schedules.

“It’s mostly a tight labor market story,” said Indeed’s Bunker, who added that there was a similar rebound among people returning from retirement after the Great Recession. “For much of last year, the big question in the labor market was: where are all the workers? This year we see them coming back.”

The rebound comes as U.S. employers continue to complain of widespread labor shortages, with twice as many positions available as there are unemployed Americans, according to the Labor Department. Therefore, employers need to do more to attract and retain workers of all ages.

More and more employers are recruiting retirees specifically by posting jobs at senior centers and churches, as well as on websites such as Retirementjobs.com and Workforce50.com aimed at older Americans. Many are also more willing to offer accommodations such as part-time or remote work, according to Amanda Cage, president of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions.

“This is the first time I’ve seen retirees become a target population,” she said. “It’s very different from what we saw in the last recession, when older workers faced extreme discrimination in the labor market in a way that they never quite recovered from. .”

The Final Twist of the “Great Resignation”: Retiring but Delaying Social Security

Robert Blethen, a retired truck driver in Connecticut, wasn’t exactly looking to work again. But the 70-year-old was lured last fall when he received a call asking if he would be willing to drive nine horses from Oklahoma to Maine.

This two-day gig turned into a part-time job and eventually a full-time job for a small trucking company. Now he’s on the road 72 hours a week shuttling cattle back to Florida. Blethen, who receives about $2,800 a month in Social Security, says the extra money has helped cover home improvement costs, including a new heating system, garage doors and fixtures. Windows.

“I was a little bored and the business was short on help,” said Blethen, who has worked since she was 12. “Plus, I’m very well paid.”

While it’s clear people are re-entering the workforce at higher rates, it’s less clear exactly what kinds of jobs they get — or how many of their decisions are voluntary, said Beth Truesdale, an aging expert from Labor and Inequality at the WE Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

“The privilege of being able to retire early or return to work if you choose is reserved for a very small fraction of Americans,” Truesdale said. “People make choices under very constraining circumstances. … In many cases, working longer is not so much a choice as having to work longer to make ends meet.”

Less hot showers, less meat: how retirees on fixed incomes manage inflation

Roblyn Melton, 58, a retired educator in Farmington, Mo., recently took a full-time job as a curriculum consultant because of astronomical health insurance premiums, which at $1,200 per month, represented double his mortgage. She plans to work for another seven years until she is eligible for Medicare.

“Basically I went back to work because of health insurance,” said Melton, who retired for three years. “But I chose a job I loved doing, so it’s not like I went back to doing something I hate.”

Leaving the labor market early can be both an outcome and a driver of inequality, economists say. More vulnerable older workers — in low-wage jobs without a college degree — were the most likely to stop working early during the pandemic, while more privileged Americans tended to delay retirement, according to the Retirement Equity Lab of the NewSchool. The proportion of black workers without a university degree who stopped working before the age of 65 increased the most.

“At the start of the pandemic, huge numbers of older people were forced out of their jobs or quit their jobs due to high health risks,” Truesdale said. “What does it mean to retire in these circumstances? It can be very complicated.

It can also be difficult to determine exactly who is “retired” or simply unemployed, she said. Many people who leave the workforce in their 50s and early 60s do so because of health issues or care responsibilities, both of which were amplified early in life. Others may leave early due to buyout or early retirement schemes, which tend to target older workers.

At the start of the pandemic, Scott Ward, then 57, accepted an offer of early retirement from his job at a global tech company in Silicon Valley. He wasn’t quite ready to stop working, but he said he was tired of frequent international travel. With nothing left to do after quitting his job, the former HR manager signed up for virtual acting classes.

Today, he has reentered the workforce in two ways: as a human resources manager in a small company that requires far less travel, and as an actor in horror films and romantic comedies. He has several gigs planned this year, including one as a deputy sheriff in a werewolf movie and another as the lead in a fantasy adventure.

“I was a little worried it would be hard to go back to work because of my age,” said Ward, 59. “But given the current market, it was easy.”

Workers between the ages of 55 and 64 — who typically don’t qualify for Medicare or full Social Security benefits — are among the most likely to return to the workforce, said associate researcher Owen Davis. at the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economics. Policy analysis.

“Retirement is influenced by your wealth, your health and your job prospects – and these things can either go in the same direction or they can all grow in different ways,” he said.

Caring for aging parents and sick spouses keeps millions out of work

Connie Kitchens retired in 2018 after three decades of working in Georgia public schools, most recently as a middle school teacher. But now the 61-year-old says she will likely have to return to work, at least part-time, so her family can meet rising food and healthcare costs.

She and her husband, a retired law enforcement officer, are raising two young grandchildren after their daughter died of breast cancer. They receive about $10,000 in Social Security and pensions every month, before taxes, although she said that wasn’t enough to support a family of four. They stopped going to restaurants and reduced their weekend outings to visit family. Her monthly grocery bill has risen from $300 to nearly $600, in part because her grandson, who has sickle cell anemia, needs specialty items like Pediasure and lactose-free milk, often in quantity. insufficient.

“The price of meat just skyrocketed – it’s so high that chicken costs as much as steak,” said Kitchens, who is considering returning to work but needs flexibility for his doctor’s appointments. grandson. “I have to find the right job, with flexibility. It’s not what I dreamed it would be when I retired.

Andrew Van Dam and Alyssa Fowers contributed to this report.

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