“Unretiring” trend in the USA: From retirement back to the streets

world mirror

Status: 24.10.2022 8:14 a.m

More and more retirees in the US are returning to the labor market, where they are badly needed in many industries. It’s not always about the money for them.

By Torben Börgers, ARD Studio Washington

5 a.m., somewhere on a country road between Massachusetts and Rhode Island: Robert Blethen is behind the wheel of his semi-trailer truck and is examining the monitor above his center console. A video camera image can be seen on it. It shows three show jumpers waiting in his trailer to arrive at a horse show. A valuable cargo that the 70-year-old drives through the north-east of the United States before sunrise this morning. “I’m old,” he says, laughing. “I get up early anyway.”

US retirees are returning to the labor market

Torben Börgers, ARD Washington, Weltspiegel, October 23, 6:30 p.m., October 21, 2022

“I drove off again”

Actually, Robert was already retired – after four decades and three million miles on America’s roads. Until one day his cell phone rang. “It was my former boss’s turn and urgently needed help,” he recalls. “So I drove off again.”

Robert Blethen has returned to the job – although he doesn’t necessarily need the money. The work gave his “life meaning again,” he says.

Bild: ARD-Studio Washington

Many Americans are like him: in the past year alone, 1.5 million returned from retirement to the labor market – some out of loneliness and boredom, others out of sheer necessity. The highest rate of inflation in 40 years has ruined many a dream of a carefree old age.

Labor market experts call this trend “unretiring”. “At the beginning of the corona pandemic, many companies could not shed their employees quickly enough for fear of collapsing orders and falling sales,” said Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that focuses on changes in the global economy specialized in the world of work. “Especially older employees were made tempted to leave working life – with lavish severance payments. Many gratefully accepted that.”

Shortage of personnel in the transport sector is particularly great

Now that US President Joe Biden has officially announced that announced the end of the pandemic, the old ones are missing everywhere. The result: a “war of talent” – a struggle for workers. For every job seeker in the US, there are currently two openings. The shortage of personnel is particularly great in the transport sector: According to industry calculations, there is already a shortage of 80,000 drivers across the country. By 2030 it should be twice as many.

Sprightly retirees like Robert Blethen are downright courted. He gets $300 a day for his trips. He doesn’t need the money, but he can use it – for example for a new heater in his house. However, since the death of his wife, it seemed very large and empty to him. That’s the main reason for him to go back to work. “During the pandemic, the ceiling fell on my head,” he says. “Work has given my life meaning again.”

If stock prices fall, retirement income will fall

Others don’t return quite so voluntarily: Siew Cheng Ghiz from Los Angeles, for example, worked as a stewardess for 40 years. When she retired, she could no longer afford to fly privately. Like many Americans, her income depends on an occupational pension funded by equity funds. Since prices have been falling, their retirement income has been falling. “We pensioners had planned to live on exactly that money.”

Since the beginning of this week she has been working in a fashion boutique. For the time being only three half days a week, at a significantly lower hourly wage than before. However, if the prices for rent or groceries continue to rise so rapidly, it could quickly become a full-time job again. “I’m aware that I’m still doing very well,” she says. “But I have to admit that I imagined my old age differently.”

It is questionable what will happen to the returnees if, as expected, the United States slides into a recession in the coming years. In the past, they were the first to lose their jobs. It could be different this time. “If I were the boss of a company, I would try to keep these returnees at all costs,” says Jane Oates. “By 2030, there will be more people in the United States who are over 60 than under 18.” Without the returning retirees, many companies could then look pretty old.

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