COVID-19 responsible for high rate of retirement

By Ethan J. Snyder 

Since its emergence in late 2019, COVID-19 has ravaged the U.S. economy. Workers across the country were compelled to retire early in order to protect themselves from the virus.

People aged 60 and older are most at risk for contracting COVID-19 in the workplace — this is the same age demographic that sees the most new retirees. 

According to a study published by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., by the end of 2020, 28.6 million people born between 1946 and 1964 reported retiring. The retirement rate had risen by 3.2 million since 2019, the largest increase in retirements in years.

Dan O’Neill, a professor in the department of communications at Youngstown State University, retired last fall. O’Neill’s retirement coincided with his 50th year of teaching. During his time at YSU, O’Neill earned several teaching awards from YSU and the Ohio Communication Association. 

“The impact of COVID had a large role in my decision to retire last fall, since I am in the highest COVID mortality age group — over 75 — and continuing to teach would leave me vulnerable when retirement would be the more rational choice,” O’Neill said. 

The strain on the economy is causing many employees to entertain the idea of using money from their retirement savings to stay afloat. According to a report published by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, “One in five workers said their confidence in their ability to retire comfortably declined in 2020, and only 27% are very confident that they will be able to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle.”

“I am still writing and doing research while spending more time with my wife and our dogs with whom we are deeply involved,” O’Neill said. “Part-time teaching remains an option when we return to a more normal post pandemic social context. I, like so many others, look forward to live — rather than online — teaching and social interactions.”

In May 2020, the National Council on Aging and the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston released a statement, noting that, “There’s a misconception that older adults are asset-rich, yet the reality is that the vast majority — 80% — are financially struggling now or are at risk of falling into economic insecurity as they age. While the financial situation for older Americans may be difficult today, our analysis suggests things may be getting worse. Ninety percent of older households experienced decreases in income and net value of wealth between 2014 and 2016.”

The federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act last March. According to the Internal Revenue Service, the CARES Act “provides for expanded distribution options and favorable tax treatment for up to $100,000 of coronavirus-related distributions from eligible retirement plans” for retirees. It also increases the limit workers can borrow from their retirement plans with extra time to repay those loans.