The return to work

One of the best examples of people dropping out of the workforce involves selling their home and moving to a less expensive city to retire at age 62.…



In simple numbers, some of that gap is due to Covid’s death toll: more than a million people, about 260,000 of them short of retirement age. In addition, a sharp slowdown in legal immigration has pared the potential work force by 3.2 million, relative to its trajectory before 2017, according to calculations by economists at J.P. Morgan.

But the problem isn’t just that population growth has stalled. Even with an uptick in August, the share of Americans working or actively looking for work is 62.4 percent, compared with 63.4 percent in February 2020.


People at retirement age, who had been staying in the work force longer as longevity increased before the pandemic, dropped out at disproportionate rates and haven’t returned. More puzzlingly, men in their prime working years, from 25 to 54, have retreated from the work force relative to February 2020, while women have bounced back. Magnifying those disparities are two crosscutting factors: the long-term health complications from Covid-19, and a lagging return for workers without college degrees.