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Coronavirus: Older workers might be forced to retire early

Written by Diane Archer

Older adults working in jobs that put them in close contact with others might be forced to retire early as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Mark Miller reports for The New York Times on the pressures older workers are feeling and the financial risks they face if they retire early. Luckily, they have Social Security, but Congress needs to increase benefits to ensure the economic well-being of retirees.

Some jobs put older workers in situations where the risks to their health from COVID-19 are high. And, there is no way for them to protect themselves. Experts say that working conditions will affect whether older adults continue working or retire early.

But, workers who retire early are likely to receive lower Social Security benefits. They will not pay in as long as they otherwise would or realize benefits from higher earnings, both of which increase the likelihood of higher benefits. They also might have to take Social Security early, which will mean they only get 75 percent of their full annual benefit.

Of course, if you work longer, you also might be able to save more money. And, you might be able to take advantage of health insurance that your employer helps pay for. Notwithstanding, there has been a huge spike in early retirement. And, that will probably worsen a retirement crisis.

Many older workers are giving up significant income by retiring early. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, older workers earned on average $49,100 in 2018. Yet, they could be putting themselves at grave risk of getting COVID-19 if they return to work. They are in a no-win situation.

The good news for some older workers is that they have been able to work remotely. According to the Center for Retirement Research, nearly half of them–47 percent–worked in jobs that could be done from home.

Still, the novel coronavirus pandemic is likely to impoverish many 50 to 60 year olds today, once they retire. Researchers at the New School find that 54 percent of these workers will be impoverished in retirement, up from 28 percent, unless Congress acts to expand Social Security.

Older workers whose employers will let them work from home or return to work in safe environments or in phases are best off. But, employers have no obligation to do so and might fear liability if their older workers contract COVID-19. Congressional Republicans are on their side. Senate Republicans and their employer allies are working to enact legislation that would protect employers from liability if their employees contract COVID-19.

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