Millions of Older Workers Retired, Dropped Out of Labor Market


Published August 24, 2021

The number of Baby Boomers who retired in 2020 was 3.2 million more than in 2019 and more than one million more than the average since 2011, according to Pew Research. Meanwhile, 1,763,000 fewer workers over the age of 55 were employed in July compared to February 2020, according to seasonally-adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Will the mounting labor shortage and a desire to accommodate flexibility and remote work demands lure back older workers?

“Workers over the age of 55 are ideal candidates for many open positions right now. Many are vaccinated and willing to work in-person at a time when employers are eager for workers to collaborate at the office,” said Andrew Challenger, Senior Vice President of global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Despite the labor shortage, The Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School found 1.1 million older workers left the workforce entirely between August 2020 and January 2021. The participation rate for those aged 55 and over was 38.4% in July 2021, down from 40.2% in 2019, according to the BLS.

In a Challenger survey conducted in July among 191 companies nationwide of various sizes and industries, 81% of companies are having trouble filling roles. Of those companies facing pushback from return-to-office plans, just 18% of respondents reported pushback from older workers.

Digital Artist, Nicole Lobdell for Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. © (Piktochart)

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. ©

“Older workers typically have a breadth of institutional knowledge, know how to lead different generations, and have evolved with technology. However, even before the pandemic, companies were realigning their workforces under mistaken beliefs that older workers are not as tech-savvy as and are more expensive and demanding than their younger counterparts,” said Challenger

In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) logged more than 20,000 requests under the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) every year from 2008 to 2017. The number fell drastically that year and in 2020, the EEOC logged 14,183 requests under the ADEA, the fewest since 1999 when 14,141 complaints were filed. These numbers do not include any complaints filed at the state or local levels.

“The pandemic certainly caused older workers to reevaluate their careers. Some lost jobs due to the pandemic and others opted to retire. Some may have taken the buyouts or early retirement offers that in non-COVID times they would not have considered,” said Challenger.

“The good news is that during the pandemic, everyone, including workers over the age of 55, became increasingly tech-savvy, if they were not already, due to the need to conduct video calls for both work and personal reasons and stay connected using social media,” said Challenger.

Older workers who have concerns about the ongoing surge in virus cases may be able to find remote work as employers turn toward offering remote and hybrid options to attract talent. The Challenger survey found 65% were offering flexible work hours and 62% were offering remote work options.

“The question is will employers shun older workers for these remote jobs under the misguided bias that this age group cannot use technology or work well remotely? It could be costly mistake if yes, as employers are desperate for talent,” said Challenger

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Challenger suggests the following tips for older job seekers:

  • Update your resume. Be sure your resume is up to date and emphasizes the accomplishments you achieved in your most recent positions. Do not go into great detail about things you did more than 10 or 15 years ago. Let your expertise shine, but trim the resume to keep it to two or three pages. Consider leaving off your earliest positions if they are no longer relevant. 
  • Don’t apologize for your age. Never be untruthful about how old you are, and don’t apologize for it. Be confident and have a positive attitude about all you have to offer. Your age reflects years of valuable experience that can translate into impactful contributions to a company.
  • Stay current. Make sure technology has not passed you by. Do you know what software is being used in your field? Are you comfortable using video platforms for interviews or meetings? If not, learn. Take courses. Seek out tutoring. Practice. Gain new credentials and list them on your resume. Read job descriptions to find out what employers are seeking. Get a new personal, professional email address (e.g., versus
  • Embrace LinkedIn. Once you update your resume, be sure to put the same information on your LinkedIn profile. Learn how to use LinkedIn to network and to learn about job opportunities. Add a professional headshot.

    Tips for older job seekers

    Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. ©

  • Be active on social media. Your social media presence will be checked by recruiters and potential employers. Being active on social media shows you are current. This is a way to market your brand. You may be “older,” but if your online presence shows you as active, vibrant, and healthy (cycling on Facebook, running a 5K on Instagram), it helps counteract any preconceived negative notions of how “older” is defined.
  • Check your attitude. Even if you have to stifle it, do not come across as annoyed by being interviewed by someone half your age. Do not be condescending. 
  • Network. Reach out to your relationships you have spent a career building. Let them help spread the word that you are ready, willing, and able to find a new role.
  • Be open and be positive. Explore positions that may offer less money and a lower title than in your past. Think about safer roles during the pandemic, such as jobs you can do online from your home. It may take time to find the position for you, but with over 10 million open positions in June, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, there are plenty available.


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Challenger's Media Coverage


Business First AM with Angela Miles

Interview Transcript

Angela Miles: We are Working It today with Andy Challenger of Challenger, Gray and Christmas. The NFIB Small Business Index rose to 100.1 however, 50% of small business owners are having a hard time finding workers. Thanks so much for being with us, Andy, and you say it’s time to start looking at older workers to fill those roles.

Andy Challenger: Yeah, in the midst of this labor shortage companies are looking everywhere for good workers. And one area that’s being highly overlooked is the group of employees, aged over 55 years old. We saw 3.2 million more retirements of baby boomers in 2020 than we saw in all of 2019, an enormous number of experienced workers left the workforce completely, and the smartest companies are working hard to bring them back into the workforce, lower them into their organizations, because they have great deep experience, and that can get moving forward on projects, almost immediately.

Angela Miles: Do you have any tips for people who are over the age of 55?

Andy Challenger interviewed on Business First AM

Andy Challenger: Yeah, one tip we like to focus on with our job seekers, that are in a later stage of their career, is talk about technology instead of avoiding it, talk about all the times in your career, when new technologies have come into the workplace, and you’ve adapted and evolved to integrate them into the work of the day, this is a moment of major technology flux and sometimes younger workers get the benefit of the doubt that they understand these new technologies in a different way, but older workers have a different type of experience, where they have seen many technologies come and go, and they can actually play upon that as a strength.

Angela Miles: Any other suggestions?

Andy Challenger: Another thing we always counsel our more experienced job seekers on is don’t apologize for your age, don’t come in feeling like you already have a mark against you when you step into that interview room, but instead come in with the confidence and positivity that your years of experience can make an impact on the organization. Almost immediately, in a way younger workers often have a very difficult time doing.

Angela Miles: Always a pleasure, Andy, thanks for coming on our show.

Andy Challenger: Thanks for having me, Angie.

Angela Miles: Go to for where to see our show on TV.

Watch the interview below.

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