Americans are, on average, living longer and more active lives, despite the heartbreaking toll of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Among the implications of increased longevity are both the need for income and also a chance to extend the career runway. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average life expectancy for Americans is 78.7 years. (for men 76.2 and for women 81.2) This is up by two full years from just two decades ago (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). A longer life span brings important socio-economic implications. Many Americans are not financially prepared for retirement, let alone increased longevity. Social Security may not be enough to support most retirees. Out of necessity, more older Americans will stay in the workforce, either in their current profession or in a new field, referred to as a ‘retirement job’ or ‘bridge job.’ (Kiplinger, 2017)
By their sheer number, the aging Baby Boomer generation means more older Americans are in the workforce, or seeking employment, than at any other time in history. Comprising 69.5 million people, the Baby Boomer generation is one of the largest cohorts in the United States (Fry, 2020). The Baby Boomer generation is generally defined as people born between 1946 and 1964 (Pew Research, 2019). As Boomers continue to age into their upper 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, a meaningful share of the job market is filled with older workers.
Additionally, with maturity and flexibility that often comes along with age, some Americans may seek to re-evaluate their work-life priorities. The Baby Boomer generation is often described as, work-centric, goal-oriented and competitive (The Balance Careers, 2019). As Baby Boomers age, many may reconsider Super’s career-life rainbow and put more focus on work that is meaningful, as opposed to merely lucrative. This phenomenon may lead Boomers to seek retirement jobs based on passion (Harvard Center for Public Health, 2004)
Challenges for Older Job Seekers
All job seekers face hurdles, but for older Americans, the job search has unique challenges including fluency with technology, competition from younger/less expensive workers, and toll of employee benefits to the employer (AARP, 2020; Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). To have career success, later in life, Baby Boomers will need an array of 21st century skills. How do we, as Career Services Providers, support this critical and growing population for career searchers? One answer may be counterintuitive, and yet highly impactful.
Benefits to the Gig Economy
The so-called “Gig Economy" may run contrary to the mindset of a Baby Boomer. Yet this kind of contract labor presents just the opportunity a Boomer needs for a “retirement job.” When Boomers entered the workforce in the mid 1960’s, most Americans chose a single profession and/or a single company, which housed the entirety of their careers. Today, careers are more fluid. The Oxford Languages Dictionary defines the Gig Economy as a labor market made up of short-term contracts or freelance jobs, as opposed to permanent positions. While the transient nature of the Gig Economy does not, on face value, sync with the Boomer mindset, it may present an ideal retirement job market.
In the Gig Economy, Baby Boomers have the potential to hopscotch across a variety of different positions. The likelihood that Boomers will pick up a wide array of technology exposure and training is high. Next, Boomers bring an array of experience that younger workers lack, which may be useful to an employer for a capsule of time. Finally, Gig economy jobs are short term in nature, with little or no commitment from the employer. This removes a key hurdle Boomers face when applying for jobs with reluctance of potential employers to take on the expense of benefits.
Strategies for Career Practitioners
Among the most promising Gig Economy sectors for Boomers seeking a retirement job is the not-for-profit market. Not-for-profit jobs represent interesting, purposeful, and rewarding work, typically at a lower pay scale. This is a trade-off that Boomers may be willing to make, both to gain a varied experience, and also to stay active in a meaningful role (Harvard Center for Public Health, 2004). Career practitioners may need to highlight the opportunities, explain the merits, and suggest specific organizations for the client to explore.
Firms like ReServe (ReServe, 2016) are perfectly positioned to bridge older workers’ need for income with need for meaning. ReServe matches recent retirees with not-for-profits, for short term employment. Certainly, retired people can and do volunteer for worthy causes, however the key to the ReServe model is the aspect of compensation. The exchange of income for effort raises expectations and commensurate effort to new levels. The not-for-profits benefit from an influx of ideas, expertise, and a wide array of professional backgrounds. Clients, called ReServists, benefit from building a broader resume, adding new skills, maintaining flexibility, and staying “in the game.” ReServe is just one example of how the Gig Economy is ideally suited for retirement jobs. Another source is WorkForce 50 (WorkForce50, 2013). WorkForce 50 matches employers, specifically seeking an older, more experienced worker with job seekers 50+. Their suite of services range from the practical, like helping workers navigate social media and update resumes, to more personal like finding purpose and value.
Finding a Good Fit
Increased life expectancy is extending the working-years window commensurately. The Gig Economy presents terrific opportunities for the Baby Boomer generation to find employment, gain valuable skills, and perform meaningful work without the long-term commitment many employers are unwilling to make. As Baby Boomers make their way through this important transition, the career practitioners can help to highlight the merits of Gig Economy jobs and support clients’ quest for retirement work.
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). (2019, December 30). Workplace age discrimination still flourishes in America. https://www.aarp.org/work/working-at-50-plus/info-2019/age-discrimination-in-america.html
The Balance Careers. (2019, October 7). Baby boomers in the workplace. https://www.thebalancecareers.com/baby-boomers-2164681
Bureau of Labor Statistics: News Release. (2020, December 17). Employer costs for employee compensation. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ecec.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 1). National center for health statistics: Life expectancy. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/life-expectancy.htm
Fry, R. (2019, July 24). Baby boomers are staying in the labor force at rates not seen in generations for people their age. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/24/baby-boomers-us-labor-force/
Harvard Center for Public Health. (2004). Reinventing aging: Baby boomers and civic engagement. https://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/boomers_engagement.pdf
Kiplinger. (2017, May 5). Retirees survive and thrive in the gig economy. https://www.kiplinger.com/article/retirement/t012-c000-s004-survive-and-thrive-in-the-gigeconomy.html
Pew Research Center. (2019, January 17). Defining generations: Where millennials end and generation z begins. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/
Reserve, Inc. (2016). About: Who we are. https://www.reserveinc.org/who-we-are
WorkForce50. (2013). Career resources for boomers and seniors. https://www.workforce50.com
Page Vincent is a recently retired career educator. She is transitioning to a retirement job as a Career Services Provider and finding meaning and fulfillment in her new role. Questions or comments, please contact Page Vincent at email@example.com.