Before the coronavirus pandemic, Antonio Fernandez, 64, envisioned staying at Chevron in Houston for another five years.
“I think I probably had five years left to work,” said Fernandez of his role at the oil giant. “I wasn’t looking forward to retiring.”
But, as with so many other things, the pandemic is making the game book new for retirement in the United States.
The retirement of older people had been a clear trend in the world’s largest economy in the pre-pandemic period, sometimes out of preference but often out of necessity.
Some have chosen to stay in employment well into their 70s in order to maintain benefits in a country where healthcare costs are notoriously high. In other cases, people were forced to keep working after their savings were hit by the 2008 financial crisis.
But since the spring of 2020, millions of people over 65 have left working life, often earlier than expected.
In June alone, more than 1.7 million older-than-expected workers retired, said Teresa Ghilarducci, a work and retirement scholar at New York’s New School For Social Research.
After being fired last fall, Fernandez applied for other positions but was unsuccessful.
“I have mixed feelings,” he told AFP, adding that the company has mostly lower-paid employees, a shift from its approach to previous rounds of downsizing.
“Even if it doesn’t feel fair in the end, it’s not a bad result for those like me who are fortunate enough to have had enough years of service and are relatively close to retirement to receive a capital pension that has been enhanced by the low interest rates.”
– Not ready to go –
It was difficult for Brenda Bates to leave early too.
After 43 years working in a Florida care facility, her job became much more strenuous during the pandemic when she had to wear a mask and goggles.
Bates suffered a transient ischemic attack, a stroke-like incident with lingering effects. After fighting for air while swimming, Bates discussed options with her husband.
The story goes on
“We made the decision to do it for my health,” said Bates.
“Before the pandemic, I thought I would work at least until 65 to get Medicare,” she told AFP. “I love my job, so I expected to stay as long as I really wanted.”
Bates is nowhere near alone in leaving earlier than expected.
Whether out of fear of job insecurity or job loss in the midst of economic upheaval, “Millions of older workers simply retire and often earlier than they are ready,” said Ghilarducci.
“It’s scary,” said Bates, who now works as an independent contractor for a senior home brokerage company.
“You are foregoing a very good salary and all of your social benefits. One day you will have nothing more.”
While most departures involve workers aged 65 and over, more workers over 55 without a college degree are leaving their jobs, Ghilarducci said.
Retirement times for black workers without a college degree rose 9.2 percent, while white workers with the same educational profile saw a 7.5 percent increase, she said.
One risk of early retirement is an increase in poverty among the elderly.
At the same time, some older workers are even relatively capable of retiring – at least compared to previous crises.
“During the global financial crisis, there was obviously a very large number of people who had lost all of their retirement assets and were unable to retire 10 years later,” said Jacob Kirkegaard, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
“Right now, the situation is exactly the opposite,” Kirkegaard said, noting that the stock market rose during the pandemic, along with property prices that fell after the 2008 stock market crash.
But labor exodus is exacerbating bottlenecks in some cases because some who have left are “very experienced, highly skilled people,” Kirkegaard said. “They are no longer available.”
Dt-jmb / cs