Richard Eisenberg retired in 2022.
At 65, he stepped away from his job as managing editor for "Next Avenue," the PBS website for people over 50, where he had worked for a decade.
"I had a rough idea of what my retirement would be," Eisenberg told Yahoo Finance. "I knew I would be 'unretiring' since I still wanted to be doing some writing, some editing, and some teaching, but not all the time."
So far, he has. Eisenberg, who lives in Westfield, N.J., explores "unretirement" in his expert columns, podcast and teaching posts, including an online NYU master class.
"I'm seeing a lot of curiosity about the idea," he said. "I'm still a little surprised that it seems like such a foreign concept to people."
A growing number of retirees like Eisenberg have stepped off the sidelines and headed back to work, especially after many were forced to retire in the pandemic, according to a new report from T. Rowe Price. Around 7% of retirees are looking for work in retirement, while 20% say they’re already working part time or full time.
"In 2021, during the pandemic, that percentage was 10%," Judith Ward, a certified financial planner and thought leadership director at T. Rowe Price, told Yahoo Finance. "They might have been forced to retire, and now we're seeing that they are reentering the workforce."
The two main reasons for coming back into the workforce are a tale of opposites. While 45% chose to work for social and emotional benefits like Eisenberg, a slightly larger percentage — 48% — felt they needed to work for financial reasons.
Older adults, those age 65 and older, represent the fastest growing group of homeless, while poverty among older Americans has escalated. Policymakers and researchers have also been fretting that the share of older Americans with debt has risen from 38% to 63% since 1990, according to a recent report by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
"Many people retired during the pandemic for a variety of reasons and the financial reality of that is now hitting home," Chris Farrell, author of "Unretirement" and "Purpose and a Paycheck," told Yahoo Finance. "Working even a few hours a week can help shore up household finances."
"They’re taking advantage of the tight labor market to unretire, often by picking up part-time work, flexible gigs, starting their own business, and even encore careers," Farrell said.
Damascus, Md.-based resident Gary Socha, 69, who retired after being laid off during the pandemic from his publishing job, stepped back in two years ago and is now working part time, four hours a day, as an advertising and event representative.
"It was too early, and my wife is five years younger and still working," Socha told Yahoo Finance. "And financially... it just seems to make sense to make some more money and make yourself a little bit more secure and more comfortable for when you do retire. I could see doing this for quite a while."
For other retirees, the lack of retirement planning or saving is coming back to haunt them.
"It's not uncommon for people to retire without having actually made a retirement plan, and then find some financial surprises along the way," Mark Miller, a retirement expert and author of "Retirement Reboot," told Yahoo Finance. "That can prompt some people to go back to work. And the faster pace of inflation we've been experiencing also is motivating some people to go back to work, just to help cover their living expenses."
How much wealth you have to tap, of course, is the lynchpin. There’s a huge difference by household assets when it comes to retirees who say they "don’t need to work," according to the T. Rowe Price report, which surveyed 2,895 401(k) retirement plan participants and 1,136 retirees with a Rollover IRA or a left-in-plan balance.
The report found 37% of retirees with household assets under $50,000 said they don’t need to work versus 55% of those in the $50,000-to-$250,000 category and 72% with assets of $750,000 and above.
Women are particularly vulnerable. In the report, 49% of retired women who were working or looking for work said they need the money compared to 41% of men.
One reason is that many women have less savings to depend on in retirement and lower Social Security benefits because of time out of the workplace for caregiving.
Learn more about top savings tools: 4 alternatives to savings accounts
"Typically, lower incomes, higher debt loads — especially student loans — and shorter job tenures are some of the factors contributing to the gender savings gap," Sudipto Banerjee, T. Rowe Price’s vice president, retirement, and author of the report, told Yahoo Finance at the WISER Annual Women’s Retirement Symposium.
The biggest financial payoffs of additional years of paid work are pushing back retirement account withdrawals, continuing to save, and delaying claiming Social Security benefits.
"Additional income can give you more time to contribute to your savings and it can also help you pay down debt and increase your cash reserves ahead of full retirement," Ward said. And for those unretirees who haven’t started taking their Social Security benefit, delaying to claim means more money down the road.
"You’ll get a higher benefit, and it's inflation-adjusted, so that’s a good deal for many people," Ward said.
The feel good part of staying on the job
There’s also the emotional draw of working, which is the second most-cited reason retirees choose to return to work.
Many retirees see part-time work as a good transition strategy with 57% of retirees wanting to continue working in some form, the T. Rowe Price report found. Men, in particular, were more likely to cite social connections as motivation to work.
"A lot of us want to work part-time in retirement," Eisenberg said. "We want to stay active, have social connections, bring in some income and to stay mentally engaged, but we also want to have time to do other things."
Plus, there’s the freedom to do what you want to do this time around, Eisenberg said. That means choosing a working route that isn’t stuffed with meetings, administrative duties — all "the parts of our former job that we didn't like so much."
And then there are the psychological benefits that work can offer, Robert Laura, a retirement coach, told Yahoo Finance. Several studies have indicated the positive mental effects of working. In fact, among older adults, retirees are more likely to experience depression compared to those who are still working, according to one recent paper.
"Work provides routine, structure, connection, mental stimulus, purpose, and relevance," Laura said. "These are all things that many people don't realize they are losing when they leave work and that aren't easily replaced with golf, grandkids, and crossword puzzles."
Kerry Hannon is a Senior Reporter and Columnist at Yahoo Finance. She is a workplace futurist, a career and retirement strategist, and the author of 14 books, including "In Control at 50+: How to Succeed in The New World of Work" and "Never Too Old To Get Rich." Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.