Are You Drastically Underestimating Your Earning Potential?

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on June 23, 2020 in Make Money

This much is true: COVID-19 has not been kind to older workers. 

May unemployment data showed the jobless rate among 55+ workers approaching 12%. That’s one of the highest jobless rates for any age cohort. Worse, the rise was explosive and dramatic in its speed. You can see in this chart just how fast the rise occurred. Rockets don’t go up this straight: 

During the Great Recession (that gray bar to the left) 55+ joblessness more than doubled to 7% from 3% over a nearly two-year span. This time around, however, the rate increased more than five-fold in just two months. And though over-55 unemployment did pull back slightly from April to May, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College just last week released new research concluding that even as the economy reopens, “older workers—who are more at risk from COVID-19—may be the last to return to work.”

But wrapped inside that sourness are several sweet bits. The center’s research found that:

• “Perhaps surprisingly, older workers are as well situated as younger workers in terms of having ‘work from home’ jobs.”

• 37% of all jobs in the U.S. can be performed from home, and those jobs account for 46% of all wages—which, the research notes, “means they are higher-paying jobs.”

• The percentage of jobs with “work-at-home” potential increases slightly with age. For workers 55-64, 44% of jobs can be performed from home. For workers over 65, 47% of jobs have work-at-home possibilities. (For the remaining age groups, the range is 27% to 44%, so older workers have an equal or better shot at work-at-home possibilities.)

Now, if you’re a regular reader of my weekend columns, you know I routinely write about all the opportunities that exist and that now is a great time to pursue a work-from-wherever lifestyle. So, it’s nice to see academic research come along that underscores my message.

I don’t write what I write to be overly optimistic or to promise more than the freelance world can deliver. I’ve had conversations in recent months with friends and colleagues back in the U.S. who say that telling older workers about the possibilities of freelancing or working from home paints too rosy a picture for a group of workers who, the naysayers argue, aren’t equipped with the technical know-how to succeed online, or who are terrified of taking the leap into the world of online income opportunities.

I don’t know that I believe those sentiments. Yes, I understand that freelancing can be a challenging transition. And, yes, technology is involved. But as I noted in one recent column, freelance website Upwork found in a pre-coronavirus survey that one-third of baby boomers and one-third of Gen Xers are actively freelancing full- or part-time. Given the vast size of Boomer Nation, in particular, we’re talking about a relatively larger number of freelance workers.

If one-third can find their sea legs aboard S.S. Freelance, then why not two-fifths or one-half or two-thirds? Particularly at a moment when A) the coronavirus has victimized the older workforce, and B) so many opportunities now exist for older workers to financially exploit their skills, hobbies, interests, and passions. 

Now more than any other point in recent history is the time to use what we know, what we enjoy, and what we’re good at to build the income stream or the lifestyle we want.

I’m writing this on Tuesday, and just last night I interviewed my colleague Winton Churchill for a Savvy Retiree video (we’ll be emailing you on Wednesday to tell you how you can watch it), and Winton raised a point that I think too many older workers underestimate: The true breadth of their knowledge base.

If I asked you right now, “Hey, tell me what you’re good at…” you would probably tell me a couple of the main skills you use in your current or most previous job. But Winton points out that that’s the “worm’s-eye view of your skills.” Think about all the skills you’ve had across your career. Think about all the processes and programs you’ve learned how to do and for which you’re now proficient. Take something as utilitarian as a PowerPoint presentation. That’s a skill…and buyers exist all over the various freelance sites looking for someone to teach them PowerPoint or to build PowerPoint presentations.

Maybe you were a manager overseeing a score of employees. Well, guess what? You are now, officially, a management consultant. You have a base of knowledge you can market to help new managers understand how to effectively manage the charges they’re now overseeing. As such, nice consulting fees are just waiting for you… 

Winton and I agree: boomers and Gen Xers are uniquely qualified to succeed as work-at-home freelancers today because they have the breadth of skills and experiences, they have the work ethic, and they’ve successfully navigated a litany of problems. And that, in essence, is exactly what the Boston College research is saying.

To be clear, I’m not saying “look how easy this is.” It absolutely requires real work. 

Instead, I’m trying to tell you that the opportunity to pursue a work-from-anywhere income stream, full- or part-time, is as big as it has ever been. We’re in a new paradigm. The U.S. workforce, even when it rebounds from coronavirus, isn’t going to look like the pre-coronavirus workforce. We’re going to see a huge number of companies allow a huge number of workers to work from home. Many of those workers are going to be newly hired freelancers with specific skill sets.

So assess your core competencies. Of those, make a list of the ones you really enjoy the most. That’s where you should focus your energies. Market yourself online as an expert in this competency. And instead of being a victim of the coronavirus, you can be one of the beneficiaries.

By Jeff D. Opdyke