The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an enormous loss of life and an economic disaster. Many Americans have lost their jobs — and those close to retirement and now unemployed might wonder if they'll even be able to work again. If you're near retirement age and facing long-term unemployment during the pandemic, it might appear that your only solution is to retire from the workforce.
But before you decide, consider these points.
The Challenges of Long-Term Unemployment
Being out of work for any stretch of time is difficult, but being long-term unemployed is especially challenging. Employers might be less likely to hire someone who is long-term unemployed, as they might worry that the person's skills have diminished.
Things can be even tougher when you're approaching retirement age. Age discrimination is a very real thing, and employers might be concerned about your health with COVID-19 still in the background.
So should you retire? That depends on your situation.
Who Should Consider Retirement?
If you're unemployed, retirement could be your best option — if you have enough money set aside. If you've already hit your retirement number and the additional income would have been nice but not necessary to live on, you could retire instead of looking for work.
Retiring could also make more sense if you're 65 or older because you qualify for Medicare, which makes it easier to handle your health insurance without a job. Older workers are also typically in a better position to collect Social Security benefits. Even though you can start receiving payments at 62, the longer you wait, the more you receive per month. If you're already in your mid- to late 60s, you're eligible for a larger Social Security payment, which might be enough to sustain your retirement.
You could have extra motivation to retire early if you have health issues. It's still unclear when the COVID-19 pandemic will be fully under control; working that extra year or two more might not be worth the risk.
Who Should Try to Keep Working?
The further you are from hitting your retirement savings goal, the more incentive you have to keep working. If you try to retire before you've put together enough of a nest egg, you're more likely to run out of funds.
Granted, finding work while you're unemployed is easier said than done. But if your retirement goal isn't in sight, you'll want to keep searching. Even accepting a job that pays less than you earned before could help your retirement plan — every dollar you earn now is one less you need to spend from your savings. This way, you could also try to delay Social Security to boost your future benefits.
Another reason to keep searching is if you're still too young for Medicare. You might want to try finding a job just for the health care benefits until you can qualify for Medicare.
Developing Your Strategy
Whether you decide to retire or to keep searching for a job, the key is to make a decision that aligns with your goals and retirement checklist. Don't make a decision out of frustration.
If you decide it's too early to retire, keep searching, even if the market is tough. The economy will eventually recover. In the meantime, consider taking on freelance work, volunteering or taking classes to improve your skills so that you have something to show on your résumé from this downturn.
If you decide to retire, stick to your budget and carefully track your savings to ensure that they will last. And keep an open mind about working again; once the country reopens and the job market bounces back, working might seem more appealing to return, even if it's just part-time.
As you review your options, consult with a financial professional to discuss your unemployment planning. They can help you determine the best approach and give you tips to manage this stretch of long-term unemployment.