More older workers were pushed into unplanned retirement earlier during the pandemic than would have occurred in a “normal” year, according to a report from the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.

New data reveal that the increase in unplanned retirements cut across age, education level and race. The result, according to the center, is increasing inequality for those most vulnerable to falling into poverty in retirement. 

Approximately 1.7 million people retired earlier than anticipated in 2020, according to the analysis. Job loss, rather than retirement assets, appears to have driven the trend.

Older adults without college degrees were hardest hit by the pandemic recession, and “the typical worker in this group was not financially prepared for retirement before the pandemic,” the report stated. Older workers without college degrees had median household retirement savings of only $9,000 in 2019, compared with $167,000 for older working households with college degrees.

Older Black workers were more likely to have been pushed into early retirement than their white counterparts. The data show that the retirement rate rose 1.5 percentage points for Black non-college educated workers aged 55 to 64 years, compared with 1.3 percentage points for non-educated whites. 

Among recommendations to offset current trends, the report advocates for strict laws that condemn age discrimination so that older workers can compete for jobs, and an Older Workers Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor to “formulate standards and policies to promote the welfare of older workers, improve their working conditions, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment.”The National Council on Aging also advocated for an Older Workers Bureau at a recent Senate hearing.