In April, the U.S. unemployment rate reached 14.7%, its worst on record since the Great Depression. And while May data hasn't been released as of this writing, it's safe to say that we have a serious economic crisis on our hands.
If you've been impacted financially by COVID-19, you may be worrying about paying your rent, putting food on the table, and covering the cost of the medications you need. But being unemployed today could also result in lower Social Security benefits during retirement. Here's why.
1. You may end up putting in less time in the workforce than planned
Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on the wages you earn during your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce. But if you don't have a full 35 years of wages under your belt, you'll have a $0 factored in for each year you're missing earnings. If you're unemployed right now and stay that way for months, it could bring down your total monthly benefit during retirement.
Similarly, if you're an older worker who's been laid off, you may struggle to find a new job, especially since senior members of the workforce tend to have a harder time finding work than younger people. During the last recession, it took Americans aged 51 to 60 an average of nine months to find work again, whereas for workers aged 25 to 34, the average amount of time spent jobless was under six months, according to the Urban Institute.
As such, you may find that a job loss later in life results in forced early retirement, and if you miss out on your last few planned years in the workforce, it could result in a lower Social Security benefit.
2. You may have to accept a lower-paying job
Right now, jobs are difficult to come by. If you work in an industry that's been substantially affected by COVID-19 (think travel, event-planning, or entertainment), you may land in a situation where you're forced to agree to a lower-paying job just to get back into the workforce. But the less money you earn, the less you stand to collect from Social Security as a senior.
Furthermore, you may decide to make a career change as a result of the pandemic. For example, if your line of work exposes you to health hazards, you may decide that it's not worth the risk, and you'd rather pivot to a job that's more conducive to remote work. But that move alone could result in a pay cut -- and a lower retirement benefit to follow.
The U.S. unemployment situation may continue to get worse before it gets better. And unfortunately, that could be bad news from a Social Security standpoint. But remember, there are things you can do to boost your Social Security benefits in retirement, too. Delaying your filing until age 70, for example, will result in a nice increase to your benefits, so if you fear that the COVID-19 crisis will wind up affecting your Social Security income, read up on the things you can do to get more money out of the program.