Here's a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic unrelated to hospitalizations and deaths that is just as statistically significant: Baby Boomers have been leaving the job market with no plans to return.
Between the end of the 2008 recession and the start of the pandemic, the U.S. labor force increased by almost 10 million people, and workers 55 and older made up nearly 98 percent of that growth. Boomers were clearly bullish on the job market.
That was then and this is now. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers age 65 and older were 26 percent of the labor participation rate in February 2020, but that had dropped to 22.7 percent in July 2021. In November 2022, it was 23.5 percent.
A recent article in The New York Times suggests that of the 3.5 million currently missing from the labor force, "roughly two million, have simply retired." The article goes on to state:
"Among Americans ages 18 to 64, the labor force participation rate — the share of people working or actively looking for work — has largely rebounded to early 2020 levels. Among those 65 and up, on the other hand, participation lags well below its prepandemic level, the equivalent of a decline of about 900,000 people. That has helped to keep overall participation steadily lower than it was in 2020.
...the pandemic seems to have nudged people who might otherwise have labored through a few more years over the cusp and into retirement."
So what are all of these newly "retired" Boomers doing? Some are working part-time for employers. Some have started their own businesses. Others are volunteering. Others may be drawing on Social Security and retirement savings, kicking back and enjoying a work-free life. Or -- some combination thereof.
It is likely COVID-19 played a role in changing the perspective of Boomers, some of whom may have seen the pandemic as a wakeup call that life is even more fleeting than they thought -- so why spend it working? It could also be that some Boomers were fed up with the relentless ageism they encountered in the workplace. Those Boomers who could afford not to work at full-time jobs apparently decided to leave the workforce.
Whatever their motivation, the mass exit of Boomers from the U.S. labor market is a dramatic reversal of a long-time trend -- and it's a reality that has not gone unnoticed.
Photo by Thuong.Nguyen.97, pexels.com