Most Retirees Don’t Want to Go Back to Work, Labor Shortage or Not

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.

Recently on the NewRetirement Facebook discussion group, someone suggested that retirees ought to help their own financial well-being as well as businesses’ by going back to work.

Bruce wrote, “I wish a lot of retirees would consider going back to work part-time to help in the labor shortage. I am not yet retired but when I do my definition of retirement will be working 3 days a week at something I like to do even if it’s retail. It would be a big help to our country and those companies struggling to stay open.”

Reactions to this post, while varied, were overwhelmingly against retirees feeling a sense of obligation to work. (Even though research suggests that pre-pandemic, a full one-third of retirees returned to some kind of work after calling it quits.)

Here is what people had to say — for and against retirement jobs.

In Favor of Working Full or Part Time in Retirement

Senior worker
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An adequate labor force helps sustain a vibrant economy, and a lack of workers will slow commerce. Workforce shortages can:

  • Squeeze the Social Security system because people are not paying taxes to cover current recipients’ benefits.
  • Slow business and deflate the stock market.
  • Spur or increase inflation.
  • Limit the availability of goods and services.

Plus, the research is clear, the personal benefits of working in retirement are immense. Retirement jobs are proven to keep you mentally, physically, and emotionally healthier.

And, a few people agreed with the concept of staying in the workforce in some capacity during retirement. The following is their rationale for working.

The U.S. Really Does Need Workers

Now hiring sign
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The labor shortages are real and impact many valuable services. Health care in particular is struggling.

While many nurses have quit amid the pandemic and are so burned out they will never go back (see later), others like Peggy see the labor shortage as a reason to keep working.

She wrote, “I’m an RN and coming up on full retirement age this year. I am questioning not taking my retirement for this very reason [labor shortages]. It’s a tough choice, but seeing so many dying younger really makes you think if you can make a difference and save a life by staying on the job.”

The skilled trades are another area where we will be hurt by the lack of workers. Steve pointed out, “The U.S. and other developed countries face a big challenge if a lot of boomers and others retire. Many of the skilled trades (electricians, plumbers, etc.) are in that demographic.”

Keith sees the issue every time he goes to the store. He wrote, “My career started as a bag boy, cashier, stocker in a grocery store. Between then and now I flew USAF fighters, bombers, trainers, and lots of airliners. Now retired and walking through a grocery store I see empty shelves everywhere but boxes piled to the roof in the storage area. The problem-solver in me wants to solve that problem!”

Only if It Is Truly Fun

Older couple reviewing documents
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Frank railed against the idea of feeling an obligation to work. However, he admitted, “Actually, despite my comment above, I have a nice little part-time seasonal job at a minor league baseball stadium!”

Todd joked that he is headed back to work, not sure his retirement career is lucrative, helpful, or at all realistic. He sarcastically said, “I too wish to go back to work. Planning on joining the PGA champions tour.”

Rob’s retirement career is more realistic and traditional, but he enjoys it nonetheless. He wrote, “I have been self-employed consulting part-time since retiring from my corporate W2 job. I don’t have many hobbies so this is my “jobby.” I work when and how much I want. I enjoy it and get a lot out of it including helping out younger folks. My wife calls it Robby’s Jobby.”

Mark thinks he has the fun figured out. His plan: “I’ll be part-time bartending in retirement… Doing my part!!”

Arlene doesn’t get money, but she definitely has fun and likes the in-kind compensation for her work. She commented, “My part-time job is walking dogs at the shelter. Pay is tail wags and sloppy kisses, and that’s good enough for me.”

Health Insurance

Senior with a toothache at the dentist
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A part-time job with health insurance can be ideal for a retiree. And, many desperate employers are improving workplace benefits to lure hires.

James is delighted with the job that enabled him to afford an early retirement.

He commented, “I retired last year at 61, well before I am eligible for Medicare. To make my finances stronger, I work part-time at Starbucks. They provide health insurance and some other great benefits. And, the work is kind of like meeting up with friends for coffee, except I get paid for it.”

Against Retirement Work

Smirking senior waving goodbye
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Despite the many perks to retirement work and the constant drumbeat in the media that a retirement job is a great way to bridge to a solvent financial future, most people eschewed the idea of working when they don’t really need to.

Pay Is Too Low

Upset senior reading a document
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DJ summed up his opposition by saying, “A lot of the ‘labor shortage’ is in lower paid positions within the service industry. I doubt any retirees want to come back to a $9 an hour job getting yelled at by customers when something is over or undercooked or when there’s nothing that can be done to override corporate policy to accommodate a 5-year-old product return.”

DJ can’t figure out why anyone would work for such low pay, “Such little pay for so many hours of difficult work. It’s reasonable that younger folks don’t want to do those jobs for that little pay either.”

Risk of COVID-19 Is Too Great

Sick senior man wearing a mask
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Kathie was flabbergasted by the question, writing, “Let me get this straight … You want the most vulnerable of the population to go back to work in low-paying service jobs in the worst wave of the pandemic due to the labor shortage? So basically retirees should risk their lives so your wait time for combo meal is less?”

However, quite a few people commented that they would consider a part-time job when COVID-19 infections slow down.

Paid Dues, Earned Peace

Retired senior couple running on the beach with grandkids
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Patti wrote, “I did my time and paid my dues for 35 years and sometimes during that period there were labor shortages. Why shouldn’t I let the younger ones do it now? I have earned this peace.”

Julie suggested that “Hard-working retirees probably are happy they earned their retirement and put their time in already.”

Herbert could barely believe the question and exclaimed, “Are you serious? I did my 30 years and retired at 56 years old. The only way I would consider working would be when someone offers me a fun, stress-free, part-time job on my terms.”

Burnout

Worried retirees reviewing their finances
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Many retirees feel burned out from their careers and won’t consider additional work.

Many nurses in particular are worn out and not interested in working anymore. Kathy said, “I was an RM for 41 years — got to be a job with NO appreciation for anything. Not worth the risk now with Covid. I put in my time, now happily retired.”

David wrote, “Many of us worked careers we didn’t like much, or downright hated by the time we were able to retire. So, anything related, even part time, is not appealing at all whatsoever. [Going back to work] sounds easy in those witty retirement books, reality is something else.”

Burnout is a real thing. And, many believe that work will need to evolve in order to encourage more people to stay in the workforce longer and also to improve quality of life during the working years.

Explore some of the proposals for how work might evolve in the future to help alleviate burnout.

Ageism

Upset senior using a laptop
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Mary wants to work, but says she couldn’t find the right gig, “When I retired early I tried to get an interesting part-time flexible job in my field. Accounting. No one wanted me. I was overqualified or just too old.”

Chris was forced out of his job, but it doesn’t sound like he would go back even if he could. He said, “Well, the corporate world wore me out. I worked 60+ hours a week over 35 years. Then many corporations decided they didn’t need the older, experienced workers.”

Pat argued, “Ageism is real and many hiring managers will need to get over that as well.”

Resentful That Younger People Aren’t Getting It Done

Worried senior man
Ameashi / Shutterstock.com

A lot of respondents were resentful that younger people aren’t working harder. There is a perception that 20- and 30-year-olds are sitting on the sidelines.

Ed begrudged what he would hear from younger workers when he was on the job. He wrote, “I did 40 plus years of working. I worked overtime when it was available. I made hay when the sun shined. I have no desire to go back now. Young people should work harder. I heard the expression ‘8 and the gate’ far too often prior to retirement from the younger folks.”

There is also a perception that younger people are living off of government benefits and not looking for work.

My Time

Senior man pointing to his head
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Many people pointed out that they had earned their retirement and that it’s now their time, not a time to help society.

Burt commented, “What I do when I retire is my choice — I’m not really making that choice based on what’s best for the country. This time around it’s all about me.”

Avoiding obligations and a schedule is a big reason people do not want to go back to work. Joe pointed out, “Do I want to go back to waking to an alarm clock? No. Do I want to put up with the BS from poorly skilled managers? No. Would I quit the minute they expect me to put in extra hours? Yes.”

Be Grateful if You Have the Choice to Work or Not

Senior woman with eyes closed and hands to her heart.
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Not everyone has saved quite enough for the retirement they want to have. And, for them, employment options and the increase in pay and benefits are hugely useful.

John magnanimously pointed out, “I just wish that more people had the choice [to retire]. Many were unable to make sufficient provision during their working years. Be grateful that you have options if you need them.”