The Gig Is Up: How Elders Can Bloom in the Freelance Marketplace

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Once upon a 1099, it was called freelancing. The newest catchphrase is “gig economy“. But however one refers to flexible, part-time, independent contractor work, it seems seniors are piloting the ship: since 1995, those aged 55-75 with a bachelor’s degree or higher have been more likely than other groups to choose alternative work arrangements. With the explosion of the aging population, this growth in self-employment has also accelerated.

Tapping till we’re tapped out?

People of every age, especially independent-minded Millennials, are less inclined to remain in a job they dislike than were previous generations. In fact, even in a climate of business uncertainty, more than two million Americans quit their jobs every month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet the national unemployment rate continues to drop; it was just 4.4 percent as of June 2017. Perhaps gigging has something to do with it?

The gig economy makes sense for seniors on many levels. People are tired of the tired maxims about pushing the envelope — though these days, the motto might more accurately be, “tapping till you’re tapped out”. Our sports-derived business metaphors all focus on more: go the distance, hit it out of the park, feel the burn. In a full-time job, this often means working well beyond an 8-hour day or a 40-hour week.

Consistent overtime can lead to more than a metaphorical sports injury, however. Employees who regularly attempt to knock it out of the park in the 13th inning can experience burnout, something an older adult definitely doesn’t need. But they do need money, and if they haven’t saved enough to retire without worry, trudging unhappily to work each day may seem like the only answer.

Unless they decide to gig.

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If your reverse mortgage prospects — or their children, who may be in late middle age themselves — aren’t “feeling the burn” in a positive way (e.g., from healthy exercise), it may be time to discover how to become a just-in-time staffer, part of the agile workforce, the sharing economy. By seeking and aggregating a number of short-term, temporary assignments, someone could earn a respectable income, minus the yoke of a full-time job that’s long past its prime — even if the person gigging is well into her 70s or beyond.

Some studies estimate that by 2020, 43 percent of the American workforce will consist of independent contractors. That’s just three short years away. And it’s going to be fueled by “unretired” elders: a new breed of seniors who are continuing to work in their current professions beyond typical “retirement age” — or opting to start new careers.

One major upside of gigging for seniors? By not putting all their eggs in one basket, they eliminate the risk of being downsized out of the job they depend on — a real blow if someone has been a loyal employee, working for the same company for 20, 30 or 40 years.

There are even job sites that specialize by industry, so a senior can find their gig economy niche. Do you know a senior who’s a retired attorney? Upcounsel provides on-demand lawyers to business. Or maybe someone has been a photographer or musician, and rather than continue in these roles directly, they would like to mentor others. At Skillshare, teachers hold online classes using skills they’ve acquired throughout their life — and Skillshare experts aren’t required to have a degree. Here’s a list of 20 platforms in the gig economy.

Clearly, it’s easier than ever to market yourself and your talent, without burning the candle until you’re burned out. Since many people who leave their “regular” job in their 60s will have another 20-30 or more of years of life ahead of them, gigging may be an ideal way to supplement a HECM — and keep elders active, actively engaged, learning while earning, and enjoying creative encore careers.

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What are your thoughts? Please leave your input in the Comments section below, and share this post on social media using the Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn icons at the top of this page. Thank you!


Shawna McDonald August 15, 2017 at 9:32 am

Amara Rose, what a wonderful, well researched article. I will share it with my senior clients who are not quite ready to leave the work place all together, thank you!

Amara Rose August 15, 2017 at 12:35 pm


You’re very welcome. It’s a whole new ball game when it comes to working in the Third Age!


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