Maybe you’re one of the 57 million or so people who participate in the “gig economy.” If not, you may be asking, “What the hell is the gig economy?”
Basically, the gig economy refers to the rapidly growing portion of the workforce that takes on gigs, also known as freelance or contract work. The statistics about the gig economy are pretty startling. Reliable studies suggest, for example, that over half of the U.S. adult population will be doing at least occasional gigs in just three years. An even larger percentage – somewhere near 90 percent of adults – say they would be open to doing freelance or independent contract work.
The gig economy is fueled by companies like Lyft and Uber. It relies on a whole host of websites that list gig opportunities. But it also includes people who sell products on the side through ecommerce portals such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy.
Contract or hourly work used to be reserved for writers, designers, photographers and other creative types but today, freelancing has a much broader definition. Information technology and customer support are just two areas that are flourishing. For some giggers, generating income from a vacation rental property is lucrative. Before Lyft and Uber came along, no one thought driving consumers part-time would be a way to generate additional income.
More men over 50 face the work-life dilemma as they age. It is demoralizing to have a legitimate skill set and be turned away from traditional employment. Too many of us are prematurely let go from our job simply because we have become a financial liability to a company. Men over 50 typically must be paid higher salaries and their benefits are more expensive, and that’s the rationale often used to dump a Boomer. Superior experience, demonstrated expertise, work record, and solid performance suddenly become immaterial.
There was a time when professionals over 50 only freelanced as “consultants” between jobs – it was more of a pit stop along the way to “real” employment. Now, the gig economy has legitimized contract work as a viable alternative to full-time employment. In fact, there are plenty of companies who use independent contractors as consultants or workers to add special expertise without increasing overhead.
The man over 50 in search of a new job is likely to face an uphill battle. Sure, there are plenty of “Help Wanted” signs on retail store and fast food chain windows, but that is a minimum-wage desperation move for many of us, not to mention a loss of dignity for some. Is it any wonder then that some men give up on the traditional job market altogether?
Getting a gig is easier than getting a job. It requires a minimal commitment on the part of the listing company, who gets work for hire at a contract price without paying a salary, doling out benefits, or hassling with taxes and workman’s compensation insurance. The level of commitment on the part of the gigger is equally low, although quality work executed on time is required to secure repeat engagements. Gigs may also be even more desirable today because recent tax law changes essentially reward self-employed individuals.
You can also approach gigs in a creative way, by turning that hobby of yours into a money-maker. One recent study indicates that over one-quarter of American entrepreneurs launched startup businesses from a hobby.
I live in Asheville, North Carolina, an area flush with artists and craftspeople. While the competition is stiff, I personally know two Boomers who retired from traditional jobs and pursued artistic money-making hobbies. One of them, a former business executive, had a passion for working with wood. He learned the craft and started to make small objects, such as pens and Christmas tree ornaments, as a hobby. He turned that into a part-time business. Another person, a former floral designer, had a talent for watercolor painting. She concentrated on painting birds and began to sell her work at craft fairs. People liked the bird paintings so much that she opened a small studio and has become locally recognized for her unique style. She is even being asked to do custom paintings.
Gigs can be a lifeline when you’re laid off or disgruntled enough with your job to make a change. It can provide you with a flexible work situation and decent income to supplement retirement savings. Some people keep full-time jobs and do gigs to earn extra income. Others have found doing gigs to be an attractive way to live a more flexible lifestyle. Put gigging together with being over 50 and you can begin to see the real potential of the gig economy.
In retirement, gigs may be an attractive income addition to Social Security and drawing on retirement savings. It also offers flexibility to do other things in retirement. I call this “gravy income” – income that is not absolutely essential but subsidizes your total income stream. If gigging offers the opportunity to use skills from your past full-time working life, so much the better. It can be both gratifying and stimulating.
Generating gravy income sounds like a pretty good life after full-time employment, doesn’t it?