Some 3 million people retired earlier than they expected during the pandemic—voluntarily or not. Now with savings running thin, the latest Covid wave on the brink of subsiding, and talk rising about plentiful jobs and rising wages, many older people might be tempted to return to work. If so, they should proceed with caution. It's not going to be as simple as collecting a paycheck again.

Anyone considering unretiring needs to adjust their expectations. They probably won't be able to return to the same level job as they left—if they can get hired at all—and will get paid less. Bring Social Security into the picture and the decision gets even more complicated.

The recent retirement wave was comprised largely of non-college educated and low-wage workers who were involuntarily pushed out, according to research from the New School's Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.

Some employers took advantage of a more lax approach to age discrimination during the Trump administration and cleaned house, says my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Teresa Ghilarducci, who runs the center. After the initial shutdowns in early 2020, older workers who were part-time or laid off "temporarily" weren't brought back, while others were outright fired. Employers aren't likely to welcome them back now.

More workers with college degrees may have chosen on their own to retire before they'd planned—perhaps because of Covid fears or surging stock market portfolios. Among this group, retirements were most prevalent for those 65 and over. But even for educated workers who retired on their own, employer age bias might make it hard to find another job.

Research using fake resumes in job applications has provided strong evidence of age discrimination against older applicants (ages 64-66) compared with middle-aged workers (ages 49-51). And an AARP survey released last year found that almost 80% of older workers had seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. That was the highest level since the group started tracking the question almost two decades ago.

Some older workers, of course, will succeed in finding a new job. If you're sure you want to go back to work, here's what you need to know before taking the plunge.

If you're counting on picking up where you left off, think again. It's rare for unretirees to be reemployed at the same level of compensation they received before they stopped working. That's true even for white-collar workers, who often come back to jobs with fewer responsibilities.

Then there's Social Security to consider. If a retiree has started claiming benefits before they were eligible for full retirement, it may be difficult to rewind the clock. You get one chance for a do-over, when you can cancel your application to receive Social Security without getting dinged for drawing down early. But you can do this only within a year of when you started claiming your benefits. And once you withdraw your application, you'll have to repay any money you received.

Be aware that if you haven't yet reached full retirement age per Social Security (66 for those born between 1943 and 1954 and 67 for those born in 1960), going back to work and earning income could reduce your benefits temporarily, and make a portion of those benefits subject to taxes.

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