Two years after the pandemic hobbled the U.S. economy, pushing up unemployment, Americans are returning to work, including many adults 65 and older, according to new research from MagnifyMoney.
In late April and early May this year, 21.9% of Americans 65 and older were working, up from 19.5% during the same period in 2020. At the same time, the share of U.S. adults who reported that they were retired rose to 17.4% in April and May 2022 from 14.9% two years earlier.
MagnifyMoney found that 25.6% of working older Americans are self-employed, more than triple the rate among working Americans 25 to 39.
The number of working older Americans varies dramatically across the country. In North Dakota, for example, the rate dropped by 11 percentage points over the two-year period, and in Wisconsin by 8.3 points. In contrast, several states saw double-digit increases in employed Americans 65 and older during that period.
Only five states experienced a drop in the rate of retirees as a percentage of the adult population: West Virginia, South Dakota, Kentucky, Iowa and Pennsylvania, according to the research.
Why are older adults unretiring or starting new jobs? MagnifyMoney identified several reasons.
For one, companies are competing for workers, leading to sign-on bonuses, better benefits and more choices for workers. Unemployment has plummeted from 14.7%, with 4.7 million job openings in the U.S. in April 2020, to 3.6%, with 11.4 million job openings, in April 2022.
Wages have risen accordingly, MagnifyMoney said, citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while also noting that with inflation at a 40-year high, the real value of those wages decline slightly.
Higher pay and higher inflation could encourage people to get back to work, the report said. Moreover, older adults may be concerned about the state of their retirement savings in the face of the 2022 stock market downturn.
MagnifyMoney said the pandemic itself helps explain why older adults are more likely to work now than two years ago. Vaccinations have proved effective in helping prevent infections and deaths, and a vast majority of older Americans are now vaccinated.
As such, older adults returning to work may feel safer interacting with co-workers or the public.
In order to identify the states with the biggest increases of employed older Americans, MagnifyMoney researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey. Specifically, they looked at survey data from Week 1 — fielded from April 23 to May 5, 2020 — and Week 45 — fielded from April 27 to May 9, 2022.
A survey asked respondents whether they were employed in the past seven days. Researchers estimated the percentage of adults 65 and older employed in each U.S. state and District of Columbia in both periods, and then ranked the states with the biggest jumps by percentage points.
See the gallery for the 15 states with the largest increases in the share of adults over 65 who are working.