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More Americans seek higher-paying jobs, retire early during pandemic

Half of people 55 and older report retirement
job tips
Posted at 10:18 PM, Jan 13, 2022

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — The pandemic cost many Americans their jobs. Employment numbers published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal the number of American workers took a nosedive in April 2020, soon after much of the country closed down due to the surge of the coronavirus.

Since then, labor force participation is rebounding but far from pre-pandemic levels.

"It’s really just a lack of quality jobs or quality wages that’s driving a lot of the shortage more than anything else," Mike Snipes, an instructor of economics at The University of South Florida, said.

Snipes tells ABC Action News low-wage workers simply do not want to go back to their old jobs. Quit statistics published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the "quit rate" hit an all-time high in November when 4.5 million Americans resigned. The highest rate was in the food service industry.

“A lot of these jobs that are coming back are the same jobs that went away in the first place," Snipes said. "They’re low-paying jobs. Jobs that might require someone to have more than one job at a time, and people aren’t going to do that anymore.”

The unemployment rate is steadily dropping ever since its 14.7 percent peak in April 2020. Snipes says this suggests workers are not choosing to quit and sit out but rather find higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

“If I’m out of work for a certain period of time, that’s going to give me time to reflect on what’s important, so spending more time with family is going to be more important than working two or three jobs," Snipes said.

"Just having a lot more time to do the things that we’ve always wanted to do," Richard Markunas said.

Markunas is not a low-wage worker and he did not quit his job, but he did realize the value in missed time during the pandemic. He chose to retire in 2021, a few years earlier than he ever thought possible.

“We looked at all of our retirement finances and it was a very viable option," Markunas said.

The 59-year-old was offered an early retirement package from his employer in May. He visited Celine Pastore, a financial advisor for SimplePath Retirement in Palm Harbor, Florida, to devise a strong retirement plan so he would never have to work another day in his life.

"I’m seeing a lot of retirees and pre-retirees saying, ‘I’m done. I’m done going to work. I’m done with the hassles, and I just want to start enjoying my life,'" Pastore said.

Pastore says the upward trend in retirement is nothing new. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a steady increase of one million more retirees per year from 2008 to 2019, however, 3.5 million more Americans retired just in the last two years. Fifty percent of Americans 55 and older polled by Pew Research Center say they have retired. Goldman Sachs research says that age group accounts for 70 percent of all Americans who left work during the pandemic.

“Certain retirees, maybe they have health issues, they really don’t want to be out there in the public anymore. Right now is a great opportunity to say, ‘Maybe I should retire early and start enjoying the fruits of my labor,'" Pastore said.

Pastore says the rebound of the stock market, vast growth in 401Ks over the last decade, and the current hot housing market all make early retirement more realistic for many Americans.

“Now you look at this home that maybe you paid $250,000 for and now it’s worth either $750,000 or a million, that’s a lot of money that you could potentially be cashing in on and getting a smaller home," she said.

That is exactly what Markunas and his wife did. The couple now kicks back in their cozy Madeira Beach bungalow planning all the things they never got to do or living out the rest of their days with no plan at all.

"We're in a very happy place, right now," Markunas said.

Pastore shares some tips for ABC Action News viewers that she advises for all her clients considering early retirement:

  • Know your monthly cash flow
    • Write down your monthly expenses and compare it to your savings
  • Increase your emergency savings
    • Set aside a portion of your paycheck for a retirement savings account
  • Evaluate your retirement vesting schedule
    • Maximize your 401(k) contribution before leaving your job
  • Stay away from added debt
    • Focus on paying off smaller debts and make minimum payments on larger ones