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The Great Unretirement? Inflation Forces Some Retirees to Return to Work

Majority cite rising living costs as top reason for seeking employment again, poll finds

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Rising prices are leading some retirees to think about heading back to work.

According to a survey from ResumeBuilder.com, 1 out of 5 retirees say they are likely to start working again this year. Among that group, 69 percent cited the growing costs of living as their reason for resuming their careers. Faced with the highest inflation in decades, some retirees are reconsidering whether they left their jobs too soon.

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“There is no longer a retirement age, and people want to be engaged longer,” says Stacie Haller, a career consultant with ResumeBuilder. “Others are returning to the workplace for financial reasons, and in this new work world, there are now more options for them to return with the advent of remote work [and] more part-time work for older workers who cannot commit to a full workweek.”

ResumeBuilder conducted the online survey of 800 participants at the end of March. Each respondent was at least 54 years old and retired.

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Many retirees’ finances are stretched thin

The spike in inflation appears to be the key driver leading some people to rethink their retirement. Among those who said they might go back to work this year, 39 percent said their daily expenses have increased greatly over the past three months.

But the financial worries captured in the survey stretch beyond inflation. Nearly 83 percent of respondents thinking about unretiring said they were concerned about their finances overall, with 39 percent saying they were highly concerned. Nineteen percent said their retirement savings are very much lacking when it comes to covering their costs of living.

Those numbers raise the question of whether people are reconsidering retirement due to rising prices or because they hadn’t saved quite enough to begin with. It may take more time to make sense of how the current economy and job market are shaping retirees’ decisions about finances and work.

For example, a separate analysis from Indeed’s Hiring Lab found that 3.2 percent of people who considered themselves retired a year ago have started working again this spring. But that study cites increased hiring demand as the reason people are returning to their careers now.

“It is hard to rule out the influence of waning concerns about the pandemic and faster inflation, and they are surely factors. But it’s not clear that they are the main reasons,” writes Nick Bunker, Indeed’s economic research director for North America.

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 Switching careers is the most popular “unretirement” option

If they do go back to work, retirees already have some thoughts on how — and where — they might do so. Most notably, 58 percent of those surveyed who said they might go back to work said they would choose an industry different from the one they retired from. Only 19 percent said they would go back to their previous employer, while 23 percent said they would stay in the same field but seek a different employer.

Remote work is the other popular option for potential unretirees. Nearly 31 percent said they would prefer to find a remote position but would be willing to work in-person if necessary. An additional 18 percent said they would only go back to work if they could telecommute.

“Remote work is also more financially viable for older workers, as the cost of commuting has climbed and remote work becomes a huge way to save on costs,” says Haller.

Another concern that could be shaping the preference for remote positions is the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey found that nearly 60 percent of those who might go back to work are still concerned about the pandemic.

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