Work & Purpose

What Boomers Need to Know About Working in the Gig Economy

The truth about what you can earn with a side hustle

The “gig economy” is sounding pretty tempting to many boomers. After all, having a side job while working full-time or picking up part-time opportunities in retirement can help bolster savings, make your financial future more comfortable and allow you to work when and where you want. No surprise that a new Betterment survey about the gig economy found that 67 percent of workers with full-time jobs and side hustles are doing the gig work primarily for financial reasons.

In another recent T. Rowe Price survey, boomers were the generation with the most positive feelings about the gig economy, which now employs an estimated 25 percent of U.S. workers. Boomers were more likely than millennials or Gen Xers to associate the gig economy with words like free, independent and empowered. “A lot of boomers enter the gig economy for work/life balance,” said Stuart Ritter, a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price. “What’s neat about the gig economy is you can call your own shots,” adds Carisa Miklusak, CEO and president of TILR, a new app-driven staffing and recruiting agency for gig workers.

The Truth About Gig Economy Work

But is the gig economy all it’s cracked up to be? And can you earn a decent chunk of change by working in it?

Not necessarily.

A Prudential survey last year found that the average earnings of gig workers are roughly half those of full-time workers: $36,500 vs. $62,700.

Long-time personal finance writer Kathy Kristof recently started a site called Sidehusl.com where she and its editors have examined roughly 200 moneymaking opportunities in 21 categories. In doing so, Kristof discovered what she calls “the deep dark secret of the gig economy.”

Although there are some “extraordinary ways to make money,” where gigs pay between $20 and $50 an hour, Kristof wrote on her Sidehusl blog, “there are also some outrageously exploitative companies” whose hourly pay looks great on the surface but proves illusive in real life, after giggers pay necessary fees and expenses.

The Most Exploitative Gig-Economy Companies

The most exploitative gig-economy companies, Kristof says, “hide all the key elements of the gig, so workers won’t find out how poorly they might be paid or how much risk the gig entails until they have committed vast quantities of their own time and resources.”

That’s why she and her SideHusl team have assigned what they call a Husl$core to each opportunity on its site, ranging from a top score of 5 dollar signs down to a single dollar sign.

The gig economy’s limited opportunities to accumulate wealth may explain why only 25 percent of boomers surveyed by T. Rowe Price said they associated accumulation of wealth more with the gig economy than with traditional work.

Short-Term and Long-Term Gigs

Gig economy jobs are also often intermittent and short-term, although some companies are trying to change this.

One firm called WAHVE finds gig-economy, work-at-home jobs for retired people in the insurance and accounting fields and enjoys making long-term matches. “I provide a steady income; we have some WAHVE workers who’ve been working for the same companies for eight years,” said Sharon Emek, CEO and founder of WAHVE. Emek hopes to expand WAHVE to place work-at-home retirees in all fields with knowledge workers.

A Dirty Little Secret About the Gig Economy

Another dirty little secret of the gig economy: most of its jobs don’t come with health or retirement benefits because workers are typically considered independent contractors, not employees.

Less than half of gig workers Prudential surveyed (40 percent) had health insurance. And only 16 percent of gig workers surveyed said they had access to an employer sponsored retirement plan; by contrast, half of U.S. workers overall do.

“Working independently has its tradeoffs, certainly,” said Ritter.

A few gig-economy companies, like Uber, Lyft and Tilr, however, have arrangements with financial services companies that let their workers make automatic deductions into Individual Retirement Accounts.

RIchard Eisenberg, editor at Next Avenue wearing a suit jacket in front of a teal background.
By Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Follow him on Twitter.

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