COVID-19 has shaken America and the world, causing widespread social and economic upheaval. The most obvious and distressing cost is the tens of thousands of lives lost to the pandemic, but attendant costs range from shuttered businesses to an unprecedented hole in the federal budget. As policymakers and others continue to grapple with controlling the pandemic, the permanent scars from this episode have yet to become clear.

Some of the impacts of COVID-19 will mostly affect today’s retirees, such as the safety of elderly institutions, while low interest rates will impact both today’s retirees and those who have yet to leave the labor market. Naturally, the future impacts are generally less certain than those experienced today.

This brief discusses the ways these social and economic impacts may transform retirement. Because this pandemic is unique in modern times, there is massive uncertainty about the future, but the authors make their arguments based on empirical evidence as much as possible. The central conclusion is that the pandemic will threaten the quality of retirement for today’s retirees and near retirees by undercutting resources for retirement, imposing steep (but necessary) social restrictions, and calling into question the safety of institutional care. The impact on future retirees is less certain, but could include weakened public entitlement programs, the need for higher rates of saving, and a heightened focus on community-based care.

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