Retirement Planning in the Gig Economy

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The rise of the gig economy, whereby employees freelance in temporary positions, is gathering momentum. Variously described as contingent workers, independent contractors, free-agents, temp labor and alternative/nontraditional workers, these employees are changing the landscape of the US labor market.

The number of Americans participating in the gig economy expanded by 9.4 million between 2005 and 2015, according to Ivy League economists Katz and Krueger. Technology has played a pivotal role in this evolution. The gig economy has been ushered into the limelight by the growth of companies such as Uber, Etsy and Airbnb. Meanwhile, technological platforms are helping redefine the gig economy by creating a digital marketplace for consumers and sellers.

More than 53 million Americans — one in three workers — are now earning income not related to a traditional 9 to 5 job. The rise of independent contract work has implications for retirement planning and the ability of individuals to provide for themselves in old age.

Contingency workers have limited access to workplace retirement accounts and benefits. According to the General Accounting Office, contingent workers are about two-thirds less likely than standard workers to have access to employer-provided retirement plans. The increasing proportion of contingency workers in the labor market will therefore necessitate changes in the retirement planning landscape.

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