Retirement has cut the ranks of scarce veterans

After decades of policing, the idea of ​​retiring began to seem good to Craig Long when, in March 2020, COVID-19 hit the suburbs of Saferno, New York. He was about 60 years old.

As a veteran detective, Long was assigned in the early days of the pandemic to help investigate the deaths of people who died at home from COVID-19, which was spreading rapidly. Many were about his age.

“I just went from death to death,” Long said. Sometimes he was at home for hours when paramedics discussed what to do with the body, given the uncertainty at the time as to how the disease was spreading.

Like many elderly war veterans, last year he decided to raise a pension and pursue something safer, focusing on his part-time work as a historian in Rockland County, New York. “I know I won’t get COVID from my dusty old books,” said Long, now 63.

Workers who have a lot of contact with the public, such as police officers, nurses, school bus drivers and retail store workers, have retired and left the workforce in much larger numbers last year than in 2019, before the pandemic, according to a Stateline analysis. data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The shortage of frontline workers has troubled states and cities throughout the pandemic.

For police officers, the number of retirements has grown faster than resignations, and both have played a role in the pandemic staff shortage, according to a May poll by police chiefs. The shortage was particularly severe in major cities, many of which were battling waves of violent crime.

As COVID-19 became the leading cause of police deaths, last year police departments from New England to California and Florida reported a shortage of officers. The state of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the shortage of officers, in part due to retirement, puts residents at risk.

The shortage of nurses has also damaged efforts to combat the pandemic. At one point last fall, dozens of Detroit hospital beds were closed due to a lack of nursing care, and school nurses were also in short supply. Military nurses were called in to close the breach in Dearborn, Michigan and Washington, last month called on the National Guard to work in supporting roles in understaffed hospitals.

Also last month, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona called the lack of school bus drivers “an obstacle to keeping children in schools.”

According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, published in October, a significant part of the labor shortage is retirement. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been about 2.4 million unexpected retirements, more than half of the 4.2 million people who left the workforce and did not return, the report said.

As a political issue, states and cities should consider requirements that would make public work safer, so that older people feel comfortable returning to them, at least part-time, said Monique Morrissey, an economist at the Left Bank Institute for Economic Policy. on pension provision. A healthier generation of older workers has become a mainstay of the workforce in recent years.

She mentioned the federal mandate for a vaccine for large employers that had been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, noting that some states, such as California, are moving forward with long-paid paid mandates so workers with COVID-19 can stay home . At least 14 states and some cities and counties have introduced workplace safety rules related to the pandemic, including the Philadelphia Law on the Protection of Employees Expressing Safety Concerns COVID-19.

“As the pandemic drags on, it would be wise for us to add more protection to workers, assuring people that they will be protected when they return to work, that would be the most important thing we can do,” Morrissey said.

“Workplace safety rules can both prevent illness and encourage workers who have left their jobs to return,” said David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University and a former assistant secretary of labor in the Obama administration. In a January article, he called on the federal government to continue trying to enforce national security rules following the failure of the Supreme Court.

The pandemic has forced nurses to work long hours in chaotic conditions. Many of those accustomed to caring for patients undergoing routine procedures were transferred to work in the high-risk emergency department.

“I hear about nurses who were considering retirement and decided to do so in light of the pandemic,” said Janine Santelli, director of the New York branch of the American Nurses Association.

“The reasons seem to be physical, mental and emotional damage and ill-treatment of patients and families. Nurses are familiar with how to get into dangerous situations and work in extreme conditions in a crisis, but this crisis lasted for two years, ”she said.

Before the pandemic, Steve Huff left his job as a nurse in Virginia at the age of 61 when he had to undergo a kidney transplant. He decided to retire rather than return after hearing about the chaos the pandemic caused in hospitals. “I loved caring, but never thought of coming back. Nurses work to death. ”

Pete Ramirez retired from running a large grocery store in Tucson, Arizona, in December. COVID-19 forced him to make a decision earlier than planned – he is only 62 years old and he has to pay for expensive private insurance until Medicare starts at the age of 65.

“As things progressed, I noticed how the staff got sick and the population got sick,” Ramirez said. “I mostly thought about my parents. They are both 91 years old, and I am their main guardian. “

According to a census microdata analysis from the current population survey (provided by the University of Minnesota), as of March 2021, 14,500 nurses had recently retired, up 140% from March 2019. This figure represents people who worked in the profession last year but said they are now retired and not looking for work.

Similar jumps were for retailers, hairdressers, school bus drivers, correctional staff, receptionists and even some factories.

Most retirees with the pandemic left part-time and could return if they were confident the work was safe, experts say.

“Public contacts and part-time status are the two biggest factors contributing to the retirement of the pandemic,” said Owen Davis, a researcher at the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School in New York City. Davis analyzed retirement in a December working paper.

His paper concluded that the pandemic “caused an unprecedented shock to older workers and led to a sharp increase in the proportion of adults in the U.S. who are retiring.” The part-time status of many workers may help explain the fact that fewer people applied for social security benefits during the pandemic, despite the fact that people say they are retired.

Experts say many have worked part-time on retail buses or driving schools to supplement their social security, or may have waited later to apply to get better checks.

Last year, the number of retired school bus drivers more than tripled to about 8,150. Older drivers left because work is no longer reliable as schools switch and exclude distance learning, and it’s more risky for health reasons. said Corey Moorhead, vice president of the school bus service in Queens, New York.

“Previously, the school bus industry had a large percentage of retirees who wanted to get out of their homes and work for a few hours,” Murhed said.

“This has completely changed. They do not feel safe carrying more than 50 children a day. Also, why work in an industry that is now under constant threat of closure? ”

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