The coronavirus is driving Americans into retirement

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Amy Scott had always said she wanted to teach high school until the day she died. Then the coronavirus appeared, making the risk of dying because she was in the classroom all too real.

With COVID-19 now ravaging her home state of Florida, she is calling time on her 45-year teaching career. “I had told my husband that I wanted to drop dead in the classroom because I love teaching — it’s who I am. It gives me energy, ideas and creativity. But I am not willing to die for it,” said Scott, 69, who until June taught at Coral Reef High School in Miami.

In choosing to walk away, meanwhile, she is like other U.S. workers who are opting to retire rather than stay in jobs that could expose them to the virus. According to a July study from the University of Chicago, the share of Americans who retired rather than remain in the labor force shot up 7 percentage points between January and April.

“With the high sensitivity of seniors to the COVID-19 virus, this may reflect, in part, a decision to either leave employment earlier than planned, due to higher risks of working, or a choice to not look for new employment and retire after losing their work in the crisis,” the study authors concluded. 

A range of older workers, including teachers, restaurateurs and doctors, whose professions require close contact with others, have started withdrawing from the workforce earlier than they had anticipated because of coronavirus-related challenges and concerns.

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Amy Scott, a high school teacher in Florida who is choosing to retire because of COVID-19, said she still loves teaching, “But I am not willing to die for it.”

Courtesy of Amy Scott


David Blanchett, head of retirement research at investor adviser Morningstar, said the coronavirus pandemic has made it riskier than ever for older adults to continue working. He expects more older people to start weighing the risks of continuing to work against retirement. 

“If you are at risk for catching the virus or have increased odds for a negative outcome, there are these newish costs to working longer that didn’t exist before the coronavirus, and you might start exploring [retirement],” he said. 

“One thing we are not sure of is what happens in three to six months when companies say, ‘Come back into the office,'” Blanchett added.


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Michael Kelly, who for 26 years owned and ran John Thomas Steakhouse, in Ithaca, New York, has already made up his mind. He is choosing to retire this year after having closed the popular restaurant in March — a move that, at the time, he expected would only be temporary. 

Five months later, and with the virus still raging in manly parts of the country, Kelly still doesn’t feel it’s safe to reopen. He would also have to cut seating capacity by at least half to follow local social distancing guidelines, making it hard for the restaurant to remain profitable.  

“It’s very difficult to do a fine-dining restaurant when you have to social distance and everyone has to wear masks. I feel that customers and employees would be at risk, and I think it would be unethical to reopen,” he told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Asked if he considered offering a more casual dining experience, or perhaps focusing on takeout and delivery, Kelly said: “I am 71. I am too old to start another concept.”



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