The Great Unretirement: Nearly two-thirds of recently retired workers would consider returning to their jobs, survey shows

June 7, 2022, 7:52 PM UTC

Throughout the pandemic, millions of Americans quit their jobs or retired in what came to be known as the Great Resignation. But recently there have been signs that many are rethinking their choices.

Some 68% of the workers who retired during the pandemic would now consider coming back to work. And a whopping 94% of those who left the workforce but never technically retired would do the same, a new CNBC survey finds. 

The fresh outlook from workers comes after a record year for job resignations and retirements in the U.S. In 2021 alone, 47.4 million people left their jobs for greener pastures, data from the U.S. Labor Department shows.

Pandemic-induced layoffs led many to retire from the workforce in 2020. Then, as the economy recovered, a tight labor market and changing attitudes about work spurred millions more to look for better opportunities or leave the workforce altogether.

As a result, employers were forced to increase salaries, offer signing bonuses, and provide remote-work options in order to court valuable talent, and labor shortages became a key concern for businesses nationwide. 

Now, though, with inflation at a near four-decade high and predictions of an imminent recession increasing, many retirees, particularly those on a fixed income, are reconsidering their choices. 

“I worked for 21 years at the same company when I was laid off due to COVID-19,” one survey respondent said. “I just interviewed two weeks ago and I’m hoping to get hired. I’m scared of losing my home.” 

CNBC’s survey found that 33% of retirees left the workforce for health reasons, 27% retired due to COVID-19 concerns, and 19% simply no longer wanted to work. Now, with pandemic restrictions fading, and roughly 85% of Americans over the age of 50 now vaccinated, many early retirees are heading back to work.

In fact, an estimated 1.5 million would-be retirees have already returned to the workforce, according to Labor Department data, and the labor force participation rate for workers aged 55 and over—or the percentage of the population that is working or actively looking for work— is returning to where it was before the pandemic began.

“The bottom line is that older workers have gone back to work,” Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, told the New York Times.

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