Retirees Cashing In On Gig Economy
Americans over 65 now outnumber teens for the first time since 1948. Just last year, the 74.9 million Baby boomers (ages 51-69) in the U.S. were overtaken as the largest living generation by millennials (75.3 million).
Traditional retirement norms are being challenged by a growing number of American retirees who are taking advantage of on-demand work apps to return back to the workforce. According to the Economic Policy Institute, many Americans are continuing to work after retirement, because their social security and savings are simply inadequate. Not to mention the uncertainty of an unstable stock and housing markets on 401K and IRA investments.
For an example of an enterprising boomer, look no further than the recent movie, “The Intern,” which featured a 70-year-old intern (played by none other than Robert DeNiro). His character is a former company executive who becomes an intern to fill the void left by retirement and becoming a widower. While the movie portrayed a fruitful working relationship between DeNiro and his millennial CEO/boss (played by Oscar-winning actress Anne Hathaway), that’s not always the case as older Americans look to re-assimilate back into the workforce.
Last year the New Republic openly criticized ServiceNow (a Silicon Valley IT company) for stating in its job listings, “We want people who have their best work ahead of them, not behind them.” It’s not surprising that Silicon Valley’s capital, San Jose, has the highest unemployment rate of Americans over 55.
Corporate Brain Drain
Today’s employers aren’t implementing policies to attract or retain older workers, despite the real brain drain that corporate America faces with the retirement of millions of boomers. According to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), only 24 percent of 1,913 HR professionals believe the loss of talent will be a potential problem, with 54 percent saying they don’t actively recruit older workers.
Of those few companies with policies to recruit older workers, most offer the flexibility of consulting gigs and/or part-time hours. The authors of the survey were surprised by the “apparent lack of concern about this loss of talent,” especially “given the newly revived debate on skills shortages and rising recruiting difficulty.”
Thankfully, the booming on-demand economy doesn’t care about age, as long as you can get the job done. And in many ways, retirees may actually have the upper hand over millennials in building a gig-based business because of their experience. 77 percent of HR professionals agree that older workers have more knowledge and skills than their younger counterparts; and about 70 percent claim that older workers are more mature and professional, with a stronger work ethic than their younger counterparts.
With flexible commitments and few entry barriers, the appeal of on-demand work is resonating with older Americans. Retirees can earn extra income with flexible part-time work hours and become micro-entrepreneurs without putting capital at risk. Perhaps more intriguing, gigging on the side is also giving retirees the opportunity to experiment with marketable skills, interact socially, and connect with different cohorts.
It’s also interesting to note that many of these retirees are immune to the shortcomings of the frequently-debated “gig economy.” Most older workers aren’t looking for career paths or full-time work. Moreover, forty million of them already have health insurance through Medicare. Yet, some still say that the gig economy is exploiting older people as independent contractors, working without employee benefits like overtime pay and vacation time. PwC recently estimated that 25 percent of Americans who consider themselves providers in the so-called sharing economy are over 55.
As micro-entrepreneurs, older Americans are leveraging their amassed knowledge, skills and experience through freelance and consulting gigs via marketplace platforms like WorkMarket. They are also trying their hands at every conceivable professional service, from walking dogs and babysitting to answering product surveys or playing tour guide for travelers. Current trends show that the next generation of retirees are planning to work “until they drop.” Participating in the gig economy may indeed prove to be a sustainable way to earn extra cash, and might even provide a meaningful (or somewhat meaningful) reason to get out of bed in the morning. Otherwise, we can always just turn off the app.