A Pandemic Problem for Older Workers: Will They Have to Retire Sooner?
Dorian Mintzer loves her work. A 74-year-old psychologist, coach and author, she has no plan to retire, and has continued to work during the pandemic, doing teletherapy from her home in the Boston area.
Now, like millions of other older working Americans, Dr. Mintzer is uncertain about the future of her job — much will depend on whether health insurers continue to cover teletherapy post-pandemic.
“I’m going to keep working virtually — the idea of going into an office building, and not knowing who’s going in and out — I’m really not sure about that,” she said. “And sitting in a room with clients with both of us wearing masks — I wouldn’t be able to see their facial expressions. So I am now for the first time feeling at a crossroads.”
Dr. Mintzer is asking the same questions facing millions of older workers. It’s still early, but experts believe the pandemic will upend the timing of retirement plans of many older workers. In some cases, their decisions will be voluntary; in other cases, retirement may be forced upon them by job elimination or unavoidable health risk.
One of the most important factors affecting your retirement security is how long you work. Additional years make it easier to increase annual Social Security benefits through delayed filing: Filing at the earliest age (62) gets you 75 percent of your annual full benefit; every 12 months of delay past your full retirement age (currently around 66, depending on your year of birth) gets you an additional 8 percent until you turn 70. Working longer also can mean saving more, living off those savings for fewer years and getting more years of employer-subsidized health insurance.
Many older workers, generally those over 40, say they will need to work longer because of the economic crisis. For example, 37 percent of baby boomers and 39 percent of respondents from Generation X said they had delayed retirement or were considering doing so, according to a recent survey by TD Ameritrade. But that will be easier said than done: Between 2014 and 2016, just over half of workers who retired between ages 55 and 64 did so involuntarily because of ill health, family responsibilities, layoffs and business closings, according to research by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research.
Here are some of the key issues and questions facing older workers navigating the last part of their careers in the pandemic.
Your Retirement Timeline
In a typical recession, the unemployment rate for older workers remains below that of their younger counterparts, but that’s not the case this time, noted Richard W. Johnson, director of the program on retirement policy at the Urban Institute.
The combined rate of unemployment and underemployment for workers over 65 was 26 percent in May, roughly five points higher than for those ages 25 to 54. That is the largest gap since record keeping began in 1948, Mr. Johnson said. And the combined rates are especially high for older workers who are less educated, black, Latino or in certain industries, such as leisure and hospitality, transportation, and education.