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COVID-19 and the New Workplace

AARP is helping workers adjust to a new reality

 jo ann jenkins  c e o of a a r p

Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Jo Ann Jenkins

En español

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the American workforce, especially those 50 and older. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, workers have left their jobs in record numbers in what is being called “The Great Resignation.”

In November alone, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs — the highest monthly total since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking those figures in 2000.

In January, AARP surveyed Americans 50 and older to find out why this is happening. Respondents cited lots of different reasons.

Many who retired recently said they had no plans to reconsider. About 7percent of respondents said they had taken a different job, while 6 percent are now working independently — as Uber or food delivery drivers, selling things made at home, and so on.  

This retirement wave has taken a toll on the American economy, but job losses also affected the ability of individuals and families to meet their day-to-day financial needs. In the weeks since AARP's January survey, news reports have suggested that the stress of higher housing, gas and food prices, along with potential of this level of inflation continuing, are causing even those who had no plans to return to the workforce to rethink.


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The good news is that these workers are in demand. More employers are bringing work teams back into the office and stepping up hiring. And older workers have an edge. A separate AARP research report issued in November found that three-fourths of employers want skills more than academic degrees. And employers are emphasizing values like professionalism, work ethic, leadership and problem-solving. Older workers have developed those characteristics over a lifetime on the job.

Employers are also understanding the value of a multigenerational workforce. They realize that having workers of different ages increases productivity, lowers absenteeism and enhances employee engagement — all of which benefit both employer and employee.

All this means there is an opportunity for early retirees to return to the workforce in 2022. And more experienced workers have the chance to seek jobs with better pay, opportunities for growth and increased flexibility. That's all good news.

Top reasons why Americans age 50+ left or considered leaving the workforce

  • Retired earlier than planned because of the pandemic
  • Cited health problems
  • Cited low pay or feeling undervalued.
  • Had concerns about COVID-19

Source: AARP survey, January 2022

But some stubborn issues remain. Older workers continue to face age discrimination. A December 2020 AARP survey found that nearly 80 percent of older workers reported seeing or experiencing a lack of fair treatment in the workforce, the highest number we have ever seen.

AARP is working with both employers and older job seekers to meet the demand for more older workers. For example, we have a job board and the AARP Employer Pledge Program that businesses can sign on to as a resource for hiring Americans 50 and over. So far, nearly 2,000 companies have signed the pledge, expressing their desire to hire these experienced, seasoned people. Thes include major companies like Apple, Microsoft, PayPal and Walgreens.

We also provide a wide range of services, resources and webinars for older workers to help with skills building, job hunting, writing a résumé and cover letter, using online job search resources and combating ageism. These resources are available online at aarp.org/work.

Thanks to a grant from Google.org, we've launched another promising initiative. AARP Foundation in collaboration with Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) aims to help 25,000 lower-income older adults — particularly women and people of color — improve their technology skills. Through the Digital Skills Ready@50+ initiative, they will get training they need to find jobs, get hired and enhance their careers.

The demand for older workers is an optimistic sign that we are moving toward a time when we can put this pandemic behind us. Those 50-plus who want to keep working, and retirees who have decided to return to work on a full- or part-time basis are a key to helping America return to normal.