With Workers in Short Supply, Many Seniors Are Unretiring

During the pandemic, millions of seniors left the workforce. Now, many are unretiring and returning to work. Here's why and how to decide if unretiring is right for you.

During the pandemic, millions of seniors left the workforce. They were scared off by the spread of COVID, needed to care for grandkids stuck at home, and were victims of layoffs. But now, many of them are “unretiring” and returning to the workforce as the fear of COVID lessens and the number of job openings hits an all-time high.

Some people discovered they were not ready to retire. They missed the mental challenge, the social contacts, and the routine of going to work. Others are returning to shore up their finances, especially as high inflation eats away their buying power and the recent stock market swoon cuts into their retirement nest egg.

The Great Resignation

In all, roughly 2.6-million more Americans than expected retired between the start of the recession in early 2020 and October 2021, according to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. During the pandemic, that accounted for more than half the people who left the workforce (stopped working or looking for a job). It also reversed the trend of recent decades during which workers stayed on the job longer than ever before due to longer life expectancies, better health, and better levels of education.

But that Great Resignation-as it came to be known-has reversed again. An economist at the job website Indeed.com, Nick Bunker, estimates that 1.5-million retirees have reentered the workforce since last summer. It’s the perfect combination of a very tight labor market (when employers scramble to find qualified workers) and the desire of experienced workers willing and ready to start earning a paycheck again.

The Labor Department reported 11.5-million job openings available in March of this year, nearly twice the number of unemployed job seekers.

Analysts say that workers who retired early – between the ages of 55 and 64 – are the most likely to seek a new job now. They do not yet qualify for Medicare or full Social Security benefits and have found their budgets out of whack. The cost of private health insurance is enormous, often tens of thousands of dollars a year for a family plan.

Financial advisers often say that working an additional few years is the best way to ensure that you have enough money to retire comfortably, with the peace of mind that you will not outlive your savings.

Timing is Everything

Older workers have usually found it tough to reenter the job market due to age bias and higher salary demands. But the timing right now may work in favor of 55+ job seekers.

Grey hair, a few wrinkles, and a long work history often worked against seniors trying to find a new job. An AARP study in 2017 found that nearly two-thirds of workers 55-to-64 said their age was a barrier to getting a new job. But with a severe shortage of qualified workers now, many employers are looking favorably upon the experience, reliability, and maturity of older employees. Many seniors are no longer seeking to climb the corporate ladder. That could be an advantage, as well.

Some employers specifically seek out older workers by posting job openings at senior centers and on job websites.

It’s also probable that retiring in a down market can be tough to handle mentally and emotionally. This may trigger new retirees to re-enter the workforce in the coming months.

What Are You Looking For?

Your job search now may be very different from when you were in your 30s or 40s. In figuring out want you want, it’s important to ask yourself some questions:
• Is salary the most important thing?
• Do you want to work full-time or part-time?
• Is job flexibility, like working remotely, a priority?
• Do you want to stay in the same career area you had been in, or are you looking for something new?
• Are your skills well suited for the job you want?

If you are looking for something new, several websites list careers for older workers. Among the potential positions available to seniors, especially those seeking part-time work, are tutors, fitness instructors, handymen (and women), adjunct professors, grant writers, business researchers, proofreaders, travel agents, theater ushers, and legislators.

Government figures also show that older workers have a higher self-employment rate than other demographic groups.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2024, the overall labor force will grow to about 164-million people, and about a quarter of them will be 55 and older. The 65+ age group is expected to have the fastest growth rate, as the youngest baby boomer will have reached age 60 by then.

Ashton Applewhite, the author of “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism,” says baby boomers have aged differently than any previous generation. They want to remain active, have a purpose, and contribute. For some seniors, retirement isn’t the dream life they thought it would be. It can be too sedate, too boring.

If quarterback Tom Brady can unretire, so can you!


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