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Justin Fox

The ‘Early’ Retirement Wave Isn’t Exactly That

Yes, a lot of older workers dropped out of the labor force during the pandemic. But people in their late 60s and 70s led the way.

Not-so-early retirement.

Not-so-early retirement.

Photographer: Michael Steele/Getty Images 

Labor-force participation has fallen further among Americans 55 and older since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic than among so-called “prime-age” workers ages 25 through 54. Older workers’ participation rate has also shown little sign of recovery as the pandemic has eased, in contrast to the pattern among younger workers.

The labor-force participation rate is the estimated number of people who are employed or actively looking for work divided by the estimated working-age population, excluding uniformed military personnel and those behind bars. Declines in the rate are often reflections of a weak labor market; people give up looking for jobs because prospects of finding something worth their while are bleak.