WI22-09: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Older Adults’ Employment and Economic Security: Insights from Earnings and Credit Panel Data



The net effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults’ economic security is not yet known. A large share of older adults were working prior to the pandemic, and recent data document a decline in labor force participation and earned income among older adults after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this research study, we examine the relationship between COVID-era exits from the labor force or reductions in earnings and changes in older adults’ economic security. Our particular focus is on changes in consumer and mortgage debt. We construct a unique panel dataset, combining individual-level administrative data on quarterly labor force participation and earnings and detailed financial information from credit report data for adults age 50 and older in Ohio from 2019 through 2021. Using these data, we (1) describe the financial characteristics of older adults with COVID-related labor force exits and unemployment claims; (2) estimate the relationship between COVID-era earnings reductions and changes in consumer and mortgage debt; and (3) identify how indicators of financial vulnerability correlate with Social Security benefit claiming rates. This study provides a comprehensive examination of changes in earnings and debt of older adults during COVID and its heterogeneous effects on at-risk populations, with a level of detail and accuracy that is not available in survey data. Findings will have direct implications for public policy targeting the economic security of current and future Social Security beneficiaries post COVID.

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