Business

‘Unretirement' Is Becoming a Hot New Trend in the Sizzling U.S. Labor Market

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  • The level of workers who retired then came back a year later is running around 3.2%, just about where it was before the pandemic.
  • A thriving jobs market in which workers virtually have their pick on where to go, coupled with soaring inflation and the fading of Covid fears all are contributing to the trend.

The Covid pandemic sent more than 8 million workers to the sidelines at one point, including many folks who decided it was the right time to retire as the workplace as they knew it faded out of sight.

But with a thriving jobs market in which workers virtually have their pick on where to go, coupled with soaring inflation and the fading of Covid fears, some are finding it a good time to rethink their plans and come back to the fold.

In fact, the level of workers who retired then came back a year later is running around 3.2%, just about where it was before the pandemic, after dipping to around 2% during Covid's worst days, according to calculations from job placement site Indeed.

"The unretirement trend is emblematic of what we're seeing in the labor market overall, which is seeing increasing labor force participation for a broad swath of workers," said Nick Bunker, economic research director for North America at Indeed.

Along with the other factors, Bunker said employers are ramping up incentives to fill 11.5 million job openings. There are about 5.6 million more vacancies than there are available workers, creating a strong power base for those looking for work, no matter the age.

"Employers are taking steps to entice people. There's an elevated share of postings that mention terms like hiring bonuses, retention bonuses," Bunker said. "There are signs that employers are starting to lure people in with bonuses like that."

A much higher cost of living than two years ago also is factoring in.

Prices in March increased 8.5% from a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that higher cost of living is posing hardship for people living on fixed incomes.

"For people who were formerly retired and are now returning to work, it certainly is having an impact," said Bunker, though he added that he is "skeptical it's the main factor." He pointed, for instance, to conditions following the financial crisis in 2008 when retirees started coming back even though inflation was nowhere near the level it is now.

For Tommy Benz, a former executive at Verizon Wireless who retired from a position at Endurance International, returning to work was a bit about a desire to stay busy but also about loyalty to his high school alma mater.

Benz, a 54-year-old Mountain Top, Pa., resident, has been taking substitute teaching jobs recently as a way to help out Crestwood High School, which needed classroom help badly. The town is in the northeast part of the state, about 110 miles north of Philadelphia.

"While subbing was not something I aspired to do in retirement, it was always in the back of my mind," Benz said. "When I learned of the shortage they were facing, it became an easy decision."

How many more people have come back to work will become a little clearer Friday when the BLS releases its nonfarm payrolls report for April.

The labor force participation rate was 62.4% in March, roughly a full percentage point up from its pre-pandemic level but well off the low of 60.2% in April 2020. The total labor force level, after sinking by more than 8.2 million from February 2020 to April of the same year, is about 200,000 shy of the pre-Covid state.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expect that payrolls increased by 400,000 in April and the unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, which would bring it back to its February 2020 level.

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