More Retirees Returning to the Workforce

Brett Favre may be the most famous un-retirer, but he's not alone. The killer combo of bigger-than-expected bills and smaller-than-expected nest eggs is sending a steady stream of retirees back to work. They're driven less by the need for entertainment and identity than they are by the need for another month's rent check.

Judging by the traffic at his Web site, research director Robert Skladany says the number of people who were already retired and now are back out in the labor market looking for jobs has roughly doubled in a year.

There's also a growing number of job seekers who are over 50 and unemployed but don't consider themselves retired, and of older workers who still are working but have delayed their retirement dates as they've watched the values of their 401(k) accounts drop. Current workers between the ages of 55 and 70 expect to keep working until they are 70, and workers over the age of 66 expect to keep working until they are 76, according to a new study by insurance giant MetLife.

But those workers face an inhospitable job market. "[There's] a disconnect between those in their late 50s and 60s who aspire to continue working and the realities of a job market that tends to treat many older job candidates as, at best, irrelevant," the MetLife study concludes. It's no surprise that the job market is weak—nationally, there are six people looking for work for every unfilled job out there. But for older workers, the outlook is much, much worse. It takes older job seekers roughly seven and a half months to find a new job, compared with six months for younger workers, according to Labor Department figures. At Senior Job Bank, another Web site focused on matching workers with jobs, there are 100 would-be employees browsing for every job that is posted, according to publisher Gene Burnard.

And the geographic outlook doesn't help. Florida, California, Arizona, North Carolina—all of those places where retirees move to enjoy the warm weather—are experiencing higher-than-usual unemployment, says Skladany. The best job markets now are in Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming, and North Dakota, which are not exactly hot retirement destinations.

But older workers don't have to do anything as drastic as moving to North Dakota, says Skladany. They can earn money if they are willing to work for less than they did before, take part-time work, and work in fields such as health care, retail banking, insurance, and retail, or for the government.

Moreover, some companies have gone out of their way to recruit older workers; AARP lists them on its annual "Best Employers for Workers Over 50". The list is heavy on hospitals and universities, nonprofits, municipalities, and insurance companies, so older workers could try those types of companies locally even if they aren't on the AARP list. Other job sites that cater to older workers and the companies that want them are,, and Cool Works, which focuses on alternative and unusual part-time or temporary work, such as campground jobs.

Many retirees will find the best route to more money isn't in a full-time job, it's in a consulting gig. Accountants who can prepare tax returns, teachers who can tutor, and researchers who can write reports can all find it easier to make extra money by hiring themselves out directly to clients (including their former employees) on a task or contract basis. That requires some business skills, but also makes it easier for workers to cut back on their projects once their earnings start to put their Social Security benefits at risk.

That's one more bit of bad news for younger retirees. Anyone collecting Social Security before the government's normal retirement age (currently 66) gives back 50 cents of benefits for every dollar more than $14,160 earned from working. However, once retirees reach 66, their benefits will be recalculated in a way that will give them credit for the additional months that they worked, and that could raise their benefits for the rest of their lives.

At least there's one upside for retirees returning to the workforce: research from the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development concludes that the longer you work, the longer you live.