Older Workers Re-enter the Workforce


Millions of older Americans stopped working during the pandemic, far more than usual, raising fears that the US workforce had permanently shifted. Roughly 2.4 million more Americans retired in the first 18 months of the pandemic than expected, making up the majority of the 4.2 million people who left the labor force between March 2020 and July 2021. But an estimated 1.5 million retirees have since reentered the U.S. labor market.

Older Workers Returning to the Labor Market

Labor analysts have noted that what had been dubbed as “the Great Resignation” has now become “the Great Reshuffle” with many older Americans who retired earlier than planned re-entering the workforce, or older retirees realizing their skills are in demand because of the talent shortage U.S. companies are facing. Many retirees are being pulled back to jobs by a combination of declining COVID concerns and more flexible work arrangements at a time when employers are seeking workers. The rising cost of living — and the inability to keep up while on a fixed income — is also factoring heavily into the decision by many retirees to return to work.

While the data makes clear that older workers are reentering the workforce at higher rates, it is less clear exactly what sorts of jobs they are getting — or how much of their return-to-work decisions are voluntary. Many older workers are making choices under challenging financial circumstances where it isn’t so much a choice to work longer, as it is a matter of needing to work longer to make ends meet. According to experts’ analysis, workers between the ages of 55 and 64 — who don’t tend to qualify for Medicare or full Social Security benefits — have been among those most likely to return to the workforce.

Record High Reports of Age Discrimination by Older Workers

But this Great Reshuffle also comes with a bright red warning flag— record high reports of age discrimination. According to an AARP survey, many older workers looking to either re-enter the job market or advance in their current positions are facing age discrimination. Seventy-eight percent of those older workers in the AARP survey reported they had seen or experienced age discrimination in the workforce, the highest number the organization has ever seen.

Discriminatory treatment in the hiring process takes many forms, such as employers asking the employee’s age or deciding not to interview an older job applicant because they can see from their resume that they are an older worker based on graduation dates or years of work experience. In other cases, an older job applicant might find themselves labelled with a mark against them: being told they are “overqualified.”

Employers who focus on hiring recent college graduates rather than employees with a mix of age and experience are hurting their own businesses. Research shows that multigenerational workforces are more productive and have less turnover than those without age diversity. Plus, employers who focus their hiring only on recent graduates or younger workers are dramatically limiting their candidate pool. Workers older than 65 make up the fastest-growing segment of the labor force, while the 35-54 age group is increasing in size much more slowly, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And even before the pandemic, the number of people ages 65 and older expected to still be working was anticipated to rise from just 19 percent in 2018 to 29 percent by 2060.

Older workers, with decades of experience, high levels of engagement, low turnover and high motivation, remain a valuable resource for employers, especially given the current labor shortage affecting many employers. Yet, older workers continue to feel the effects of age discrimination in the workplace. A significant majority have seen or experienced age discrimination such as older job seekers being asked for age-related information in the hiring process or older workers who report being subjected to ageist comments on the job. The fact that age discrimination is illegal does not mean it isn’t happening now as much as ever.

If you believe you may have experienced age discrimination on the job or in the hiring process, our attorneys can help you evaluate your situation.

For more on this topic see:

The Value of Experience: Age Discrimination Against Older Workers Persists

Is It the Great Resignation or Great Reshuffle?

Even in a Candidate’s Market, Ageism Exists in the Hiring Process

Is there age discrimination in hiring?

Older job seekers face a record-high roadblock: Age discrimination