The pandemic forced millions of Americans to leave the work force earlier than planned.

Millions of Americans have decided to retire since the pandemic began, part of a surge in early exits from the work force. The trend, which has broad implications for the labor market, is a sign of how the pandemic has transformed the U.S. economic landscape.

For a fortunate few, the decision was made possible by 401(k) retirement accounts bulging from record stock values. That wealth, along with a surge in home values, has offered some the financial security to stop working well before Social Security and private pensions kick in.

But most of the early retirements are occurring among lower-income workers who were displaced by the pandemic and see little route back into the job market, according to Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics and policy analysis at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

After analyzing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, Dr. Ghilarducci found that among people with incomes at or below the national median, 55 percent of retirements recently were involuntary. Among the top 10 percent of earners, only 10 percent of exits were involuntary.

“It’s a tale of two retirements,” she said.

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