How COVID-19 is affecting aging and retirement today and into the future


Dear readers,

Now that we see some light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, it seems timely to step back and take a look at how the pandemic is affecting aging and retirement today and in the future. The subject was addressed in the article “How Covid-19 will change aging and retirement” in the Nov. 16, 2020 Wall Street Journal. Some of the following information and perspectives are from that article, plus my own professional and personal views.


Life expectancy: Based on a USC-Princeton study, the U.S. is going to lose one year of life expectancy, from 78.8 to 77.8 years. This will be the largest single-year decline in at least 40 years and is the lowest life expectancy since 2003. This loss is not distributed equally among minority populations. For Latinos, life expectancy is expected to shorten by 3.05 years; for Blacks 2.1 years and for Whites a much smaller decline of .68 years. The pandemic is primarily responsible. The disproportionate effect for Latino and Black communities is attributed to their having greater exposure in the workplace, extended family contacts as well as receiving poorer health care that leads to more infections and worse health outcomes.


Technology: With more time at home and wanting to stay connected older adults have become increasingly tech-savvy. AARP reports that in 2020 51 percent of top purchases of older Americans included smartphones, computers or laptops and smart televisions. Without specific numbers, we know older adults are Zooming with friends and children; grandparents are using Zoom to read stories to their grandchildren. Innovators are using the pandemic as a moment of constructive opportunity as they continue to figure out what older adults need as they stayed at home. Telehealth, wearable devices and diagnostic tests for home use are examples that only will grow in their availability. Technology also is playing a role in fighting isolation. For example, Eldera, Inc. pairs older adults as mentors to children for school work and learning life’s lessons while Table Wisdom pairs older adults with foreign-born students who want to practice their English. Silvernest, Inc. matches older homeowners with roommates who pay rent, defraying costs for the homeowner. All of these rely on older-adult use of technology.


Work: Once the pandemic subsides, older adults are predicted to work longer, a pre-pandemic trend. From 1993 to 2019, the percentage of older workers has increased from 29 percent to 40 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As companies offer flexible work schedules and the expansion of the gig economy, it may be easier for older people to remain employed. However, there is a problem with remote work and in particular telework. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports only 25.5 percent of older workers work from home and those 65 and older are the least able to work remotely.


Use of time: Time feels different during the pandemic. It easily becomes a blur when Saturdays feel like Tuesdays with few if any deadlines or expectations from others. Time also is garnering new appreciation as we are reminded of the continuous tragic deaths from Covid sending us a clear message that life is short. Yet, this open sense of time has provided opportunities to reflect and consider priorities. According the Wall Street Journal article, George Kinder, Founder of the Institute of Life Planning, motivated advisors who train with him to identify their life priorities. He asks them three questions: “What would you do if you had all of the time and money in the world? How would you live if you only had five to ten years to live? What would you most regret if you died tomorrow?” Kinder is quoted as saying, “Covid essentially poses the same questions.”


View of aging: For many, age has felt like a curse with 80 percent of deaths occurring among those age 65 and older with most deaths among nursing home residents. Furthermore, the perception of older adults as frail and helpless affirms common age stereotypes. Unfortunately, many older people are frail and helpless because of health issues, living alone, not having enough money and more. However, it’s important to remember that does not apply to all persons of age. Studies indicate that during the pandemic, older adults have been psychologically and emotionally more resilient than their younger counterparts.


Hopefully, we, our older population and society as a whole, will learn from our collective experience and reap some benefits that will lead to a kinder, more secure and just society.


So dear readers, stay safe, be well and be kind to yourself and others.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity