How many seniors are postponing retirement in your state?

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The COVID-19 pandemic brought a significant shock to the U.S. economy in 2020. Unemployment rose to 14.7% in April of that year — a figure that doesn’t even include those who voluntarily exited the workforce. Many Americans lost their jobs, while others stopped working due to business shutdowns or fear of contracting the virus.

Two years later, under different economic and public health conditions, many people have returned to work. But while older people may choose to retire during economic downturns — which many did in 2020 — some of those older Americans are returning to work, as the unemployment rate has plummeted and job openings have risen far past pre-pandemic highs.

Even though the number of retired Americans 65 and older is nearly 3 percentage points higher than in 2020, the number of working older adults is more than 2 percentage points higher — reflecting the broader economic recovery and strong labor market conditions.

This MagnifyMoney study analyzes U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey data to examine the labor environment for older Americans, comparing data from April and May 2020 to April and May 2022.

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Key findings

  • Amid the coronavirus pandemic, a rising share of adults 65 and older are working. In late April and early May 2020, 19.5% of Americans 65 and older were working. That figure jumped more than 2 percentage points in late April and early May 2022 to 21.9%. At the same time, the share of U.S. adults who reported that they’re retired is up similarly — from 14.9% in April and May 2020 to 17.4% in April and May 2022.
  • More than a quarter of working Americans 65 and older are self-employed. 25.6% of employed older Americans are self-employed — more than triple the rate among working Americans 25 to 39. Meanwhile, the government isn’t the landing spot it once was for older workers: In April and May 2020, 15.2% of employed Americans 65 and older worked for the government. In April and May 2022, however, that percentage plummeted by a third to 10.1%.
  • New Jersey saw the largest jump in older adults in the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic. In April and May 2020, 18.1% of Americans 65 and older were employed in New Jersey. By April and May 2022, that was up 18.9 percentage points to 37.0%. The other states with double-digit increases were West Virginia (17.2 percentage points) and Pennsylvania (14.6).
  • North Dakota saw the biggest dip in the percentage of adults 65 and older in the workforce. The rate of older working adults went from 36.0% in April and May 2020 to 25.0% in April and May 2022 — a drop of 11.0 percentage points. Other big drops were seen in Wisconsin (8.3 percentage points) and North Carolina (6.3).
  • Only five states saw a drop in the rate of retirees as a percentage of the adult population. The percentage of retired adults in West Virginia fell from 23.3% in April and May 2020 to 21.6% in April and May 2022 — the biggest drop across the U.S.

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More older adults returning to work in 2022

There are many potential reasons why older adults may be unretiring, or otherwise starting new jobs. For example, there’s much more competition among businesses for workers, leading to sign-on bonuses, better benefits and more choices for job seekers. The labor market has recovered faster than expected over the past two years:

  • In April 2020, unemployment spiked to 14.7%, with 4.7 million job openings in the U.S.
  • In April 2022, unemployment was down to 3.6%, with 11.4 million job openings

Wages have also risen accordingly, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Median weekly wages were $951 in the first quarter of 2020, compared with $1,030 in the first quarter of 2022. However, due to inflation hitting a 40-year high, the real value of those wages declined slightly.

Both dynamics — higher pay and higher inflation — could encourage people to get back to work. Likewise, the 2022 stock market downturn could have older adults concerned about the state of their retirement savings.

Of course, the pandemic itself helps explain why a higher rate of older adults is working now than two years ago. COVID-19 disproportionately affects older people — though vaccinations have proved effective in helping prevent infections and deaths, and a vast majority of older Americans are now vaccinated. As such, older adults returning to work may feel safer interacting with co-workers or the public.

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26% of Americans 65 or older are self-employed

More than any other age cohort, older Americans prefer to work for themselves. Fewer than 10% of workers younger than 40 are self-employed, compared to more than a quarter of workers 65 and older.

The percentage of older workers employed by private companies, nonprofits and family businesses — as well as those who are self-employed — ticked slightly upward over the past two years. In contrast, the percentage of Americans 65 and older employed by the government fell from 15.2% of workers in 2020 to 10.1% in 2022.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers tried to entice older workers to retire to trim their payroll costs — and government workers were no exception.

However, older Americans aren’t the only ones with fewer government jobs: 14.1% of workers 18 to 24 were employed by the government in 2020, compared with 8.6% in 2022. Even though the U.S. economy has a strong labor market, the number of government jobs hasn’t recovered to its pre-pandemic high, and both the youngest and oldest workers are most impacted.

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Working older adults

These are the states with the biggest — and smallest — jumps in older adults in the workforce

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51. North Dakota

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 36.0%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 25.0%

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50. Wisconsin

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 21.6%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 13.3%

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49. North Carolina

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 26.4%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 20.1%

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48. Alaska

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 28.9%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 24.5%

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47. Maine

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 22.4%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 18.1%

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46. California

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 28.3%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 24.0%

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45. Delaware

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 20.2%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 16.3%

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44. Massachusetts

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 25.2%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 21.7%

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43. Wyoming

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 26.2%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 24.6%

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42. Oklahoma

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 20.1%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 18.6%

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41. Ohio

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 19.3%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 17.8%

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40. Utah

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 24.2%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 23.1%

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39. New York

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 16.4%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 15.5%

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38. Louisiana

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 15.2%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 14.4%

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37. Arizona

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 18.8%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 18.0%

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36. Mississippi

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 23.2%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 22.5%

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35. Illinois

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 25.9%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 25.5%

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34. Kansas

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 23.7%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 23.5%

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33. New Mexico

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 22.9%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 23.0%

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32. Alabama

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 21.9%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 22.3%

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31. Montana

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 24.6%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 25.3%

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30. Arkansas

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 16.0%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 16.7%

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29. Maryland

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 20.5%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 21.5%

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28. Missouri

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 18.3%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 20.2%

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27. Texas

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 23.0%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 25.0%

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26. Florida

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 15.1%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 18.1%

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25. Idaho

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 23.5%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 26.6%

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24. South Carolina

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 13.9%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 17.4%

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23. Hawaii

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 22.4%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 25.9%

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22. Nevada

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 18.9%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 23.1%

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21. South Dakota

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 19.8%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 24.0%

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20. Iowa

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 19.9%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 24.4%

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19. Colorado

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 19.0%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 24.1%

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18. Minnesota

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 17.1%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 22.3%

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17. Connecticut

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 22.7%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 28.8%

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16. Michigan

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 14.2%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 21.0%

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15. Virginia

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 19.1%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 26.0%

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14. Kentucky

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 19.6%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 26.6%

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13. Washington

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 15.6%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 22.7%

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12. Indiana

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 13.4%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 20.6%

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11. Nebraska

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 20.2%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 27.4%

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10. Oregon

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 16.7%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 24.3%

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9.Vermont

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 25.8%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 33.4%

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8. District of Columbia

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 19.9%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 27.8%

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7. Rhode Island

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 14.9%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 22.8%

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6. Tennessee

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 17.3%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 25.3%

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5. Georgia

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 18.9%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 27.0%

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4. New Hampshire

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 16.5%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 25.3%

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3. Pennsylvania

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 14.0%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 28.6%

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2. West Virginia

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 8.0%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022: 25.2%

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1.New Jersey

Percentage of working older adults in 2020: 18.1%

Percentage of working older adults in 2022:  37.0%

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Methodology

MagnifyMoney researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey. Specifically, we looked at survey data from Week 1 — fielded from April 23 to May 5, 2020 — and Week 45 — fielded from April 27 to May 9, 2022.

The survey asked respondents whether they were employed in the past seven days. We estimated the percentage of adults 65 and older employed in each U.S. state in both periods, and then ranked the states with the biggest jumps — by percentage points.

In addition to employee data, researchers analyzed retirement data at the national and state levels. Because this data isn’t available by age, any retirement data looks at all adults 18 and older.

This article originally appeared on Magnifymoney.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org

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