For most of the past 20 years, retirement rates in the US were declining. People were staying in jobs longer, experts speculated, because of factors such as increased life expectancy, higher education levels, and the rise in the minimum age to collect full Social Security benefits.
In the past two years, that trend reversed: Beginning with the pandemic-related economic shutdown in March 2020, a significant number of US adults who hadn’t necessarily planned to retire, did so. It’s estimated that two and a half million “excess” retirements took place between March 2020 and the second quarter of 2021.
“What we’ve been seeing is a wave of people who have rethought the contract between themselves and the world of work,” says Frank A. Ghinassi, PhD, senior vice president of behavioral health and addictions at RWJBarnabas Health and president and CEO of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care. “The question is whether they made the choice with a complete understanding of what the consequences would be.”
Reasons to leave: Fear was a motivator for many, Dr. Ghinassi says. “Early in the pandemic, before we had vaccinations and better medications, lots of people were dying,” he says. “People began to ask themselves: ‘Is going into work worth my personal risk?’ You saw this in people who couldn’t work from home, such as environmental services workers, first responders and healthcare workers.
“Also, many individuals began to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. Then, as the pandemic ground on, making decisions about vaccination and risks and new variants all began to weigh on people,” Dr. Ghinassi explains. “Older adults started thinking about how they wanted to spend the rest of their lives. A lot of employees began to examine whether they could make retirement work earlier than previously planned.”
“It’s important to walk through the actual realities of retirement before you take that step,” says Dr. Ghinassi.
About the Author: As the leader in providing mental health services in the state of New Jersey, RWJBarnabas Health Behavioral Health and Addiction services are focused on providing unparalleled expertise and stigma-free mental health services.
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