Only trouble is, the numbers don’t back it up.
Instead, early retirement — whether forced by the pandemic or made possible otherwise — is playing a big role in America’s evolving labor market.
People have left the workforce for myriad reasons in the past two years — layoffs, health insecurity, child care needs, and any number of personal issues that arose from the disruption caused by the pandemic. But among those who have left and are not able to — or don’t want — to return, the vast majority are older Americans who accelerated their retirement.
Last month, there were 3.6 million more Americans who had left the labor force and said they didn’t want a job compared with November 2019, says Aaron Sojourner, a labor economist and professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
Older Americans, age 55 and up, accounted for whopping 90% of that increase.
“I think a lot of the narratives imagine prime-age workers as being missing, but it actually skews much older,” Sojourner told CNN Business.
The labor shortage and retirement
“Part of it is a job quality shortage,” says Sojourner. “It’s a bit of a puzzle why employers aren’t raising wages and improving working conditions fast enough to draw people back in. They say they want to hire people — there are 11 million job openings — but they’re not creating job openings that people want.”
“I can want a 65-inch TV for $50, but it doesn’t mean there’s a TV shortage, it means I’m not willing to pay enough to get somebody to sell me a TV,” said Sojourner.
Nearly 70% of the 5 million people who left the labor force during the pandemic are older than 55, according to researchers from Goldman Sachs, and many of them aren’t looking to return.
Retirements tend to be “stickier” than other labor force exits, the researchers wrote. Even so, they expect that an improving virus situation and increased vaccination will allow older workers to return to the labor force.
In normal times, retired people are often drawn back into the workforce. But the “unretirement” rate fell significantly during the pandemic, exacerbating the shortage of workers, according to research from the Kansas City Fed.
Then again, older workers are potentially competing with younger, more qualified applicants for jobs, which could make their return more challenging.