Older workers – those age 55 and over – face multiple barriers to a secure retirement. Some are working in physically demanding jobs that have become too difficult but lack the training or skills needed for other jobs. Many are suffering from new health problems or increasing severity of chronic ones. And being laid off later in life makes it much harder to find a new job. Workers of color, immigrants, and women in particular are likely to have worked in jobs that made it hard to save enough for a secure retirement.
Enhancements to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, along with potential new social insurance programs can improve income security for these various groups.
Even before the pandemic forced millions out of their jobs, older workers faced multiple challenges. In 2012, over eight million older workers were forced to retire earlier than they had hoped to due to health problems, with recent numbers likely higher. And as of 2014, over 10 million older workers were doing either physically demanding work or had jobs with difficult working conditions. Given the impacts of social determinants of health, older workers of color, in particular Black workers, are hit the hardest by these closely related factors.
The same factors that drive older workers out of the labor force also hurt the economy more broadly. Workers over sixty are at a heightened risk of using opioids to treat work-related injuries and to subsequently become addicted and die of an overdose. Of the opioid epidemic’s estimated $1 trillion-plus cost to the country since 2001, the biggest factor is lost earnings and reduced job productivity.
These realities of physically demanding jobs and of unemployment pose challenges to older workers across the country but are especially concentrated in regions where blue-collar jobs have disappeared, where workers have less average educational attainment, and where their health care is least accessible and/or affordable.
Policy research to address retirement insecurity
Through its year-long crowdsourcing challenge, the Academy in partnership with AARP identified four policy proposals to improve the retirement security of older workers ranging from simple tweaks to existing policy to increase the flexibility of benefits claiming, to more ambitious strategies that provide “bridge benefits” to those suffering long spells of unemployment and/or health problems.
In 2021, the Academy is again partnering with AARP to better understand the scope and depth of the challenges facing older workers and to explore more options to support their needs. The first phase of this work includes the launch of a Task Force to explore models for expanding current retirement security policies, building on the SSDI program.
Other initiatives targeting retirement security include the work of our Medicare Study Panel and our newly-launched COVID-19 Task Force. The goal of the new task force is to compile and synthesize the literature and data on key epidemiological factors to assess the social, financial, and sociopolitical consequences of the pandemic. The COVID-19 Task Force will help to inform the administrators of the major social insurance programs – the Social Security Administration, the Centers on Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – as they face key social insurance policy decisions that the new Biden Administration will tackle.
“Not everyone can work longer either because of their health or because of the nature of their work. We need innovative policy solutions to help these people maintain their financial wellbeing as the retirement age is rising to 67.” – Debra Whitman, Chief Public Policy Officer, AARP
If you are an older American facing an insecure retirement, we invite you to share your experience with physically demanding work, health challenges that impede doing your job, age discrimination, or other work-related issues with the Academy. Your insight could help in our work to expand current retirement security policies. Email Elaine Weiss, Director of Policy, to tell your story.
Contact: Elaine Weiss, Director of Policy, firstname.lastname@example.org