Senior citizens are surging into the online platform economy (Uber, TaskRabbit, eBay, Airbnb, etc.), growing more reliant than other age groups on a volatile, uncertain income source, a new JPMorgan Chase Institute report found. Defined contribution plan participants, especially at low- to middle-income levels, could be at risk if they expect online platform jobs to cover necessities in retirement, or to be a key supplement to Social Security.
Seniors today are earning a significant share of their income through online gigs—one-third, in some cases. The report said while younger workers dominate the sector, seniors, now numbering about 400,000, are more reliant on this volatile income stream. Income volatility is worsening generally for seniors, with swings averaging 20% a month or more. DC plan sponsors and their advisors may choose to help participants prepare to have sufficient retirement income so a shortfall doesn’t leave them dependent on the “gig,” or freelance, economy.
According to the JPMorgan Chase Institute’s Local Consumer Commerce Index (LCCI), a data source for the report, spending by seniors has weakened significantly in recent years, more than it has for other age groups. Causes may include diminished portfolio returns, fewer benefits from lower gasoline prices (seniors drive less), and the absence of a Social Security cost-of-living increase.
An online platform job, taken by choice, offers welcome discretionary income and social benefits. But these employers typically offer no social safety net and rarely withhold taxes, which can present additional hardships. The report said the sector’s rise deepens the need for financial education and for tax-advantaged plans, such as 401(k)s; and for innovative financial products and policies that would, for example, let gig economy workers anticipate income fluctuations and plan accordingly.
The report is the latest from the JPMorgan Chase Institute, a global think tank dedicated to delivering data-rich analyses and expert insights for the public good. It is available online:Past 65 and Still Working: Big Data Insights on Senior Citizens’ Financial Lives.