Economists are curious as to whether baby boomers who accelerated their retirement during the pandemic will return to the workforce, and if so, at what rate.
About 2.6 million older workers retired above ordinary trends since the start of the pandemic two years ago, according to a Bloomberg report citing estimates from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Despite this boom, applications for Social Security benefits have remained fairly flat, based on calculations by the Boston College Center for Retirement Research. About 0.1 percent of the U.S. population 55 and older have applied each month, which is in line with pre-pandemic applications.
Pandemic surges in stock and real estate values made this an “opportune time for some workers to step out of the labor force and stay out of the labor force,” Lowell Ricketts, data scientist for the Institute for Economic Equity at the St. Louis Fed, told Bloomberg. “But we’re still expecting a steady, steady trend that some might want to come back,” he noted, citing remote and hybrid work as attractors for seniors eyeing a return to the job market, particularly amid high inflation.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data on labor participation shows that some baby boomers have come back, while many remain on the sidelines. Pre-pandemic, “unretirement” was not uncommon in the United States, due to financial hardship or personal choice. It’s still too soon to say whether the pandemic has challenged this dynamic.
Some “retirees” may have only one foot out the door, too. The Social Security Administration’s Office of the Chief Actuary suggested older people may have “retired” from one job and continued working in another, which explains why they haven’t applied for benefits, Bloomberg reports.
Early retirements have stood to further disrupt the healthcare labor force throughout the pandemic. For instance, census microdata from the Current Population Survey provided by the University of Minnesota shows 14,500 nurses had recently retired as of March 2021, an increase of 140 percent over that figure in March 2019, according to a Pew report. The figure represents people who worked in the profession the past year but said they were now retired and not looking for work.
Read the Bloomberg report in full here.