Educators Trying to Balance Safety With Finances

Three-fourths of K-12 educators consider their job risky in terms of exposure to COVID-19, but they are also concerned about the pandemic's impact on their ability to save for retirement.

As schools reopen across the nation, some teachers are weighing their personal safety and their finances to determine whether they should go back to work in the classroom, according to industry experts.

An infographic by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) and ICMA-RC found nearly three-fourths of K-12 educators consider their job risky in terms of potential exposure to COVID-19, yet 61% said they have noticed the negative impact the pandemic has had on their family finances.

To combat the financial shock, more educators are cutting back on their retirement savings, and 61% said they are spending less on essential and non-essential expenses. Twenty-eight percent said they plan on reducing the amount they are saving for retirement currently, while 76% are concerned the economic crisis will reduce their ability to save enough for a secure retirement, according to the research.

COVID-19 has restructured what back-to-school means for educators and the public alike. As some institutions switch to remote learning for the upcoming semester, while others go back to in-person classes, teachers are reconsidering their future for the sake of their health, experts say. Since the pandemic began, more are looking to leave teaching this fall, with some retiring altogether. Twenty-one percent of educators said the risks in working during the pandemic are leading them to search for other jobs, according to the research in the infographic.

Educators discouraged by remote working environments or wary of returning to the classroom are turning to early retirement, said Richard Johnson, a senior fellow in the Income and Benefits Policy Center and director of the program on retirement policy at the Urban Institute in an interview with PLANSPONSOR in July. Seniority has shielded older schoolteachers from layoffs and job losses in the past, but concerns of workplace safety are casting doubts about whether they can continue in the role now.

Lisa Bamburg, a co-owner of Insurance Advantage & LMA Financial Services in Jacksonville, Arkansas, is an investment adviser endorsed by the Arkansas Retired Teachers Association, who communicates and works with educators on retirement planning. In recent months, Bamburg said she has noticed more teachers choosing to retire early, citing fears of catching COVID-19.

“We’ve had a surge of teachers wanting to talk about retirement since COVID,” Bamburg said in an interview with PLANSPONSOR. “It’s normal for some teachers to retire as of May 31 with a June 30 retirement date, but, because of COVID, more are scared to go back in the classroom.”

Those teachers aren’t alone. A survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center polled 1,907 educators and found that 44% of teachers said their colleagues were more likely to leave classroom teaching since the pandemic began. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that local governments saw a loss of 468,800 jobs in local public school employment alone since the pandemic hit. Those who don’t retire may be left unemployed, which can lead workers on another path toward early retirement.

But these workers may still be able to achieve financial wellness despite retiring early. The Society of Actuaries’ 10th biannual Risks and Process of Retirement Survey, for which more than 2,000 people were interviewed, found that while 53% of pre-retirees expected to retire at 65 or older, almost the same number (54%) left the workforce at age 61 or younger. Additionally, 76% of retirees surveyed noted they are as financially well off or better than they expected before retirement.

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