Pandemic-era retirees ready to return to work, AARP CEO says

Millions of retirees who left the workforce in the first few months of the pandemic are ready to return to work, and companies stand ready to hire them, according to the AARP.

AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said the reasons for early retirement varied in 2020: some people retired to avoid COVID-19 exposure, while others were laid off because of massive job cuts. Others may have retired early because the pandemic was a reminder of our own mortality — leaving the workforce was a way to "seize the day," financial planner Liz Weston said in 2021.

More than two years later, many of those early retirees "are bored to death and looking to do something that has meaning and purpose," Jenkins said at a recent event hosted by the social impact nonprofit Concordia.

The pace of retirements among baby boomers, those born from 1946 to 1964, accelerated during the pandemic, a Pew Research Center analysis of monthly labor force data found. The number of boomers who reported that they were out of the labor force due to retirement grew 3.2 million in the third quarter of 2020 compared with the previous year. Before the pandemic, the number of retired boomers had been growing an average of 2 million each year since 2011, when the first boomer turned 65.

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"At the beginning of COVID, so many of us were at home thinking, ‘Is this what I’m going to do the rest of my life?’" Jenkins said.

Another factor that could be bringing more retirees back into the workforce is the near record-high inflation Americans have endured over the past year. Several government indexes show that inflation hits older Americans harder than the rest of the population. Medical costs are a big part of the burden.

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There’s good news for retirees who are ready to return to work. Jenkins said a tight labor market has prompted some companies to reach out to recent retirees as they struggle to attract and retain workers. A recent survey by CNBC showed that 68% of people who retired during the pandemic would consider going back to the workforce.

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"One of the things we see happening around the world is companies bringing back older workers — or, perhaps, if someone is thinking about retiring, transitioning them into a business mentor position so that they are serving as mentors to different teams or different individuals," Jenkins said. "This is sort of a new take on how to tap the enormous amount of talent and resources you have in those older employees in the workplace."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.