Self-employed workers who are 50 and older fall into a hierarchy of sorts, a new study finds.
The largest group is the 75 percent who work independently in jobs like freelancer and gig worker. Their average earnings are low – $18,000 a year – and they are more likely to be women or Hispanics.
The other 25 percent of the self-employed older workers are primarily white men and are evenly divided between business owners and managers who work on a contract basis. These individuals tend to be doctors, lawyers, or executives in industries ranging from finance and construction to retail.
To get a better handle on who is choosing self-employment and why, University of Michigan researcher Joelle Abramowitz analyzed 2016 survey data from the Health and Retirement Study. These data included not only older workers’ employment status but also specific information about their employers, industries, and occupations.
The self-employed account for roughly one out of five older workers, but the arrangement is especially popular among boomers over 65 – a third of the workers in this age group are self-employed.
Abramowitz’s research, funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration, finds a lot of diversity in the jobs the self-employed do and in their perceptions of work.
The low-paid independent workers dominate jobs like caregiver, cleaner, farmer, artist, and beauty industry worker. Many view themselves as “retired” and say they would rather not work but apparently need to supplement their retirement income.
In contrast, the owners and managers are far less likely to see themselves as officially retired. Compared with the independent workers, they earn considerably more and are wealthier. The net value of their financial, housing and other wealth exceeds $1 million on average.
Sales and rentals of recreational vehicles have skyrocketed during the pandemic as people working remotely use their newfound freedom to move their workplaces to the great outdoors.
Outdoorsy – the Airbnb of recreational vehicles (RVs) – reports that 40 percent of its new rental customers are under age 40. But long before younger adults hit the road, thousands of baby boomers were buying RVs to roam the country in search of work.
Rather than seeking psychological relief from COVID, as younger workers are doing, the boomers – some retired and some unemployed – are looking for financial security.
In this excellent PBS NewsHour segment, Paul Solman talked to boomers who park their RVs at campsites near whatever seasonal jobs they can find at places like Amazon and JCPenney warehouses, sugar beet farms, and theme parks and national parks.
During the summer tourist season, Judy Arnold has been working at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. But with so many businesses shut down by the pandemic, she worries about where her next job will come from. “I definitely need an income,” she told the NewHour.
George Stoutenburgh gave two reasons for his wanderlust. …Learn More
Many baby boomers retire the conventional way – by leaving their career jobs. For the others, the first step in retiring involves stopping over in a different job than they’ve held for years.
A sketch of the older workers who transition to post-career jobs – and their reasons for doing so – emerges from a survey of a fairly elite group of mostly college-educated professionals: clients of the Vanguard investment company.
They made the job transitions for a variety of reasons. More than half of them either had initially retired but decided to go back to work or were forced out of a long-term job by a layoff, firing, or business closure. However, Vanguard’s clients are apparently in good health, because they rarely made changes due to a medical condition.
The boomers usually changed jobs during their 50s. The post-career jobs were often in entirely different occupations or industries, which required the workers to make big trade-offs, according to the 2015 survey, which was designed by Vanguard and several academic researchers.
The old positions were usually full-time, and, as a result, had rigid schedules. Half of the people who found a new job said they now have flexible schedules. But everyone who moved into a post-career job took a 20 percent pay cut, on average, either because they’re working fewer hours or are in a different industry or occupation where the skills honed over the years are not as valued.
There’s also telling evidence that many of the boomers in post-career employment were eager to make this tradeoff. They typically moved from the career job to the new one in about a month, an indication that many had landed the new job prior to leaving the old one. …Learn More
It’s not unusual for workers who grew up in lower-income households to help their parents out financially.
But a new study uncovers a twist in this familiar story: once the parents are old enough to collect Social Security, the money flowing from adult child to parent slows down. And when this occurs, the offspring are able to start saving money.
Social Security, by reducing disadvantaged parents’ reliance on their children, “may be able to interrupt the cycle of poverty between generations,” Howard University researcher Andria Smythe concluded from her analysis.
To chart changes over time in cash transfers within families, Smythe followed U.S. households’ finances between 1999 and 2017 using survey data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.
She found that the financial support going to parents in the bottom half of the U.S. income distribution was substantial. These parents received about $8,000 from their offspring over time. In contrast, among the higher-income families, money consistently flowed in the opposite direction – from parent to child.
After the lower-income parents turned 62 and started their Social Security, the likelihood the adult children would continue to support them declined, according to the study, which was conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
This, in turn, had a positive effect on the adult children’s wealth. People who grew up in lower-income families saw the biggest bump in wealth, adding about $13,000 in the years after their parents turned 62.
Social Security benefits, Smythe concludes, “may contribute to wealth-building among the adult children’s generation.”
To read this study, authored by Andria Smythe, see “The Impact of Social Security Eligibility on Transfers to Elderly Parents and Wealth-building among Adult Children.” …Learn More
Jennifer Lee wanted to work until 70 to max out her monthly Social Security checks – at least that was the plan before she was laid off three years ago from a Washington D.C. church.
The church’s newly hired pastor “decided he wanted a whole new staff,” she said. “I felt to a degree he was entitled to do that,” she said – except that “he was only eliminating people on the staff who were over 60.”
She wasn’t having any luck finding a new job and felt that her only choice was to sign up for Social Security at 63½ to pay her bills. Eventually, Lee, a one-time nurse and medical administrator, landed a nice part-time job as a Jack-of-all-trades in an oral surgeon’s office. Post-pandemic, her duties have expanded to include overseeing the COVID-19 safety protocols.
The recession is putting many baby boomers in a predicament similar to Lee’s: a layoff has derailed their plans to work full-time to build up their retirement savings. Since March, the unemployment rate for Americans who are at least 55 years old has more than tripled, to 9.7 percent in June.
“Most older people, when they’re laid off, will take Social Security right away,” but “that’s not their best short-term solution,” said Wendy Weiss, a Cambridge, Mass., financial adviser. She urges them to find other ways to generate income or reduce expenses, because delaying Social Security increases the monthly check by 7 percent to 8 percent for each additional year the benefits are postponed.
But, Weiss acknowledges, the recession is putting growing numbers of unemployed boomers in situations that aren’t easily solved. “It’s not going to be pretty,” she said about the next few years.
Lee, who is 65, was fully aware she should have postponed her Social Security. But it took her more than six months to find her current job, and she didn’t have any unemployment benefits to tide her over, because church employers don’t usually pay into state unemployment insurance funds. She wasn’t old enough for Medicare at the time of her 2017 layoff either.
“I waited five months to apply for Social Security. I waited as long as I could,” she said.
She sees a problem not in the difficult decisions she’s had to make but in a shortage of policies for older workers like herself, who may be more vulnerable to layoffs and also can have a tougher time finding a new job even in an expanding economy. …Learn More
Although COVID-19 has exposed alarming gaps in a health insurance system that revolves around the employer, the Affordable Care Act is one potential solution for workers who lack the employer coverage.
There is nothing equivalent on the retirement side, however.
Many workers between ages 50 and 64 are in jobs that provide neither health insurance nor a retirement savings plan. But, in contrast to the health insurance options available to them, “no retirement saving vehicle appears effective in helping older workers in nontraditional jobs set aside money for retirement,” concluded a new analysis of workers in these nontraditional jobs.
Nontraditional workers who want to save for retirement are left with two options: their spouse’s 401(k) savings plan or an IRA operated by a bank, broker or financial firm.
A spouse’s 401(k) hasn’t been an effective fallback for a couple of reasons. First, a substantial number of the workers who lack their own 401(k)s are not married. And second, if they are married to someone with a 401(k), they’re not any better off. The researcher found that married people currently contributing to 401(k)s do not save more to compensate for the spouse without a 401(k), reinforcing other research showing these couples don’t save enough for two.
The other option – an IRA – is open to everyone. But only a small fraction of Americans currently are saving money in IRAs, and most of them already have a 401(k). So IRAs, in practice, aren’t doing much for the people who need the help: workers who lack employer benefits. … Learn More
Like much in life under a pandemic, the research presentations for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium’s annual meeting are going virtual.
This year’s online meeting will also be scaled down from the traditional two days to one: Thursday, Aug. 6.
The purpose of the meeting, which is usually held in Washington, D.C., is for academics from universities and think tanks to describe their latest research to colleagues, policy experts, financial professionals, and the press. Topics this year will include taxes in retirement, federal disability insurance, housing, health, and labor markets. The U.S. Social Security Administration has funded the research and is sponsoring the meeting.
The agenda and information about registration are available online, and participants can register anytime. Questions for the researchers can be submitted during the presentations via a moderator.
One fresh idea being explored this year is taxes in retirement. Taxes are central to whether retirees have enough money to cover their essential expenses, but households that are approaching retirement age may not factor the need to pay federal and state taxes into their planning. Despite the importance of this issue, only a handful of existing studies have tried to estimate the tax burden. This paper fills the gap.
One session will feature a pair of papers looking at whether cognitive decline has a detrimental effect on older Americans’ finances. One will explore whether dementia leads to financial problems overall, and the other will focus exclusively on debt.
Researchers will also try to resolve a conundrum in the disability field: why are applications for federal benefits declining at the same time that Americans’ health is deteriorating? One hypothesis is that jobs are becoming less physically demanding. A second disability study will produce a publicly available database for researchers who want to examine the local factors affecting applications.
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