Why the gig economy is a no-brainer for Baby Boomers

Retiree-turned-babysitter Angela Brownlee with one of her charges, Willow.

Retiree-turned-babysitter Angela Brownlee with one of her charges, Willow.

Upon retiring in 2014, Angela Brownlee found herself with an abundance of time and energy. She had run businesses in hospitality, beauty therapy and floristry throughout her working life while also raising three children and being idle didn’t suit her.

"I am 60 but I am a young and vital 60," she says. "I certainly don’t resemble the 60-year old my own mother did at my age."

She began casting her eye around for an outlet for her energy and quickly found Juggle Street, an on-demand, neighbourhood marketplace and job platform connecting nannies and babysitters with families.

"I realised there was a need in my own community where young families aren’t getting as much support as they need and someone of my age and skills can fill that gap," Brownlee says. Since joining she has worked for over 60 families in her neighbourhood.

Aside from the fact she can pick and choose jobs that fit in with her own family and other interests, the supplementary income takes the pressure off the financial reality of retirement.

"The additional income is helpful because I am very aware that our savings are a finite resource," she says. "As Baby Boomers we do expect a lifestyle that is difficult to trade down from. Being able to supplement what we have managed to put away and continue to have the odd lunch out, help the kids with gift giving and not having to watch every penny is a great freedom."

There is no set pattern to how much or how little Brownlee works. She still flies to New Zealand to help care for her own elderly mum for extended periods of time so won’t do any nannying work for several weeks while she is away.

"I engage and disengage very frequently depending on my own commitments," she says. "But I could very easily do it as a full-time job."

Forget young men on bicycles delivering food, the gig economy is now home to a growing number of older men and women.

For Brownlee the "gig economy" is a blessing: it gives her income and flexibility but also a sense of giving.

"There is altruism in it for me because it’s very nice to give something back to the community that we benefited from," she says. "Many of the young families I work with are grateful to have help from someone a bit older."

She believes there was a greater level of community support and family involvement when she had her children that the current generation of parents don’t necessarily have.

Many people associate the gig economy with younger workers.

Many people associate the gig economy with younger workers.

Brownlee is among a growing group of older workers cashing in on the rise of contingent employment. Forget young men on bicycles delivering food, the gig economy is now home to a growing number of older men and women tapping into a side hustle to fund their retirement.

Research from McCrindle in 2017 showed that the older Generation X and Baby Boomers are more likely to choose the flexibility offered by casual or contract work than younger generations.

"It not only allows them to choose their hours, but they can choose the work times that will best suit, but also increase or decrease their workload depending on their financial needs," McCrindle’s head of research Mark McCrindle says.

Retirees and aspiring retirees around the world are supplementing their savings with casual or contract work. A 2017 Prudential Financial survey suggests 31 per cent of workers in America’s gig economy are Baby Boomers and 34 per cent of those workers are retired.

Earlier this year the insurer, Zurich, surveyed several thousand British workers and found that over a third of people in the booming gig economy who are above the age of 55 say that they are drawn to temporary jobs to ease the transition into retirement.

It is no secret that being unemployed after the age of 50 is difficult: age discrimination in Australia is rife, with some research showing "hireability” decreases 8 per cent each year after the age of 35.

In Australia if you are over 50 without employment you are in the hardest age bracket to find a new job and yet chances are you still have many many years left where you either need an income, want to work, or, both.

The gig economy isn’t perfect – it doesn’t deliver the stability and security of permanent employment but it is a flexible and adaptable solution that can provide a tidy side income stream for many Australians. For many baby boomers it’s a no-brainer.

Georgina Dent is a journalist, editor and TV commentator with a keen focus on women's empowerment and gender equality. Next week: Catherine Robson.

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