Among the more striking labor market changes during the pandemic is the surge in retirements.
The number of retirees rose by 3.6 million, according to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Mo. To put that number in perspective, if the retirement share had risen at its 2010–20 pace, the number of retirees would have increased by only 1.5 million.
The household finances of these retirees may suffer if they left employment earlier than expected. Retirement is often treated as permanently leaving employment.
Yet we know that many retirees eventually unretire, perhaps by finding an encore career, landing part-time work or joining the ranks of the self-employed.
Turns out the sharp increase in pandemic-related retirements was largely driven by a decline in the number of retirees transitioning back to employment, rather than by an increase in the number of people retiring, according to Jun Nie and Shu-Kuei X. Yang of the Kansas City Fed.
They speculate that many pandemic-retirees could unretire. Considering the risk of getting COVID, some retirees may have postponed rejoining the workforce.
As vaccinations increase and health risks fade, more retirees could look for work.
The Kansas City Fed report reminded me about an unretirement moment while giving a talk at a community center near Phoenix. An unretiree told us his experience:
"You retire. You have a drink on your patio at 4:30 in the afternoon. Best drink ever. You don't have to go to a meeting or work late on a report. Just relax. Time passes. You have a drink on your patio at 3:30 in the afternoon. The drink still tastes good, but you're disconcerted no one pays attention. More time goes by, and you have a drink at 1:30 in the afternoon. No one cares. You realize it's time to go back to work."
We had a good laugh. But his basic insight is spot on. Many retirees want a break from their previous job. They return to work within a year or two, often looking for a combination of purpose and a paycheck.
If you're recently retired and you're thinking about getting a job, now is an opportune time to plan your return. Employers are eager to accommodate new hires. You'll have some room to negotiate pay and hours. Many ageist hiring barriers should wield less influence when employers are looking to fill positions.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for "Marketplace" and economics commentator for Minnesota Public Radio.