New paths towards the end of life: rethinking work and retirement later in life


In March 2020, for many Americans and older workers in particular, what it meant to go to work changed in an instant. As some workers moved from their desks to their homes, others had to go to work and face significant health risks every day. Older Americans faced greater health risks than younger adults, leaving many to feel they needed to take time off work temporarily or permanently, a trade-off between protecting their health despite a financial need to work. . Others have chosen to retire earlier than expected without a clear plan for this new phase in their lives. Since older workers who lose their jobs face much longer spells of unemployment before being re-employed if they wish to work, older workers are likely to lead the way in remaking what our lifestyles are like in the past. post-COVID-19 work.

It will be years before we can look back at the pandemic and fully assess how our working lives changed in March 2020. However, the Great Recession that shook the world in the final months of 2007 paved the way for the how we define work and retirement journeys today. For example, the odd-job economy has become a way for ordinary people to work without the structure of a typical job, and the freedom to choose when and how much to work. It has also led to an accelerated decline in retirement savings, leaving more people without the means to leave their jobs for good despite the traditional retirement age. How have these and other structural changes shaped career paths in later career stages?

My colleagues and I have identified the most prominent work and retirement patterns from 2008 to 2014 among older American workers who quit their full-time jobs in 2008. Our research showed:

  • More than half (58%) of those who left their full-time job in 2008 returned to work for some time.
    • 9% made the transition to part-time work only to return to a less intense full-time job and remained employed full time for a number of years.
    • 10% switched to part-time work and continued to reduce their commitment to work over time until they eventually quit work.
  • However, most of the individuals identified themselves as retired but continued to work to some extent.
    • 14% moved to jobs of less than 20 hours per week on average and remained part-time for an extended period,
    • 25% switched to part-time work and reduced their working hours each year until they completely withdraw from the workforce.

While it is not known whether these post-Great Recession work patterns will persist in a post-COVID-19 world, there is good reason to expect that most older workers will continue to work. paid work for many years after the traditional retirement age. . In fact, older workers report a preference for the transition to less intensive paid work before retirement rather than a sudden departure. The problem is that we have not developed a clear infrastructure for these kinds of professional transitions, so older workers have had to replenish post-retirement employment opportunities themselves. Although there are more options than before, most older workers are unable to phase out full-time jobs, and part-time work rarely includes much-needed benefits like health insurance and social security contributions. employers’ counterpart on retirement savings accounts. . Older workers also face the challenge of having a higher likelihood of facing family care needs, and many employers do not offer jobs that give workers the flexibility to perform their jobs while taking care of their loved ones.

While a post-COVID-19 world may push employers to take a fresh look at career models that include part-time work and flexible work options that allow older workers to stay employed, we need more intentional federal policies that encourage employers to create full-time work options that support career paths. For example, a new optional federal retirement savings program could be created for non-full-time workers, and optional early access to health insurance could be provided to part-time workers aged 50 and over. Such programs can lead to new working lifestyles that match not only the preferences and needs of older workers, but also those in other phases of life that need or prefer non-full-time career paths for them. allowing to obtain advantages, a potential for upward mobility and meaningful and stimulating work.

October is National Retirement Security Month, a time to reassess what retirement means in a post-pandemic world. All over the world, the average age of the population is increasing. With a decline in the number of younger and working-age people in the United States, postponing retirement as a way to retain the talents of older workers will become increasingly critical. Cultivating meaningful alternative forms of work and retirement has the potential to ensure that older workers are valued as important ingredients in a vibrant economy and culture. As we move into a post-pandemic society, the time has come to rethink the structures that differentiate between work and retirement so that we can be more inclusive and flexible to meet the needs and preferences of all workers.

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