Uber, Kickstarter, TaskRabbit, WyzAnt . . . The names of these online enterprises may cause you to think of younger people–“hipsters”–sitting in a coffee bar, closely engaged with their smartphones and tablets as they use the above apps–or one of the dozens of others that are now available–to peruse their latest chance to make some extra money in what is being called the “sharing economy”–or sometimes, the “gig economy.” The idea is that by using platforms like Uber, Airbnb, and others, you can turn excess or underutilized assets–a spare bedroom or your car–into a profit center. Apparently, the concept appears to be working; according to a 2016 report in Time, 53 million Americans did at least some freelance work in 2015–more than a third of the US workforce. By some estimates, the sharing economy will be worth more than $300 billion, worldwide, within the next few years.
Surprisingly, though, the fastest-growing segment of participants in the sharing economy may be seniors–especially Baby Boomers who are starting to hit their retirement years. These aging entrepreneurs are taking advantage of platforms like GoFundMe, Care.com, Chegg, and others to augment their retirement income.
In 2015, AARP announced a partnership between its Life Reimagined program and Uber, the leading peer-to-peer ride sharing program, to recruit older drivers. With a combination of exploding demand for Uber’s services and older Americans either forced into early retirement or otherwise sidelined by the Great Recession, the idea was to produce a win for Uber, which needed more drivers, and for seniors, who typically own reliable transportation and had enough flexible hours to provide transportation for paying customers. Adam Sohn, vice president of strategic initiatives at Life Reimagined, said, “The sharing economy is offering people an opportunity to . . . be empowered to make money and be their own bosses.”
Seniors report generating significant incomes with platforms like DogVacay.com, which matches those willing to dog-sit in their spare time with pet owners who prefer not to board their animals with vets or other standard operations. Retired teachers can sign up with WyzAnt or Chegg to offer homework help, tutoring, or help with other educational tasks. Retirees with good handyman skills can reportedly make as much as $6,000 per month by creating a profile on TaskRabbit.com and getting paid for odd jobs like painting, simple carpentry, or even assembling someone’s new Ikea furniture.
But there are some unresolved issues and cautions related to the boom in the sharing economy. For one thing, the regulatory environment is uncertain, especially as tensions foment between companies like Uber and Lyft and standard cab companies, many of which are unionized. Also, with the anticipated rapid increase in the value of this sector, some increased government oversight seems likely. Second, many seniors are concerned about allowing unknown persons to stay in their homes, as with Airbnb. Because seniors are prime targets for scammers and other undesirable actors, such caution seems warranted, though some peer-to-peer platforms do require background checks for both service providers and consumers. Finally, the cost of wear and tear on assets–vehicles, tools, homes–and the providers themselves should also be taken into account.