If you are working for yourself, you might be thinking you’ll never be able to retire. One-third of the U.S. workforce currently has no money saved for retirement, and around 23 percent have less than $10,000 saved. But the problem is especially acute for one growing segment of the workforce -- self-employed professionals and freelancers.
Forty million people -- or one in three Americans -- are currently self-employed, and by 2020, this group is expected to grow to 40 percent of the U.S. workforce. More and more people are striking out on their own, launching small companies and working from home. In the process, they’re redefining the concept of employment.
A traditional career path used to mean working for a single employer for the entire span of your career, paying your contributions and retiring comfortably at 65. And while self-employment has many advantages, like greater flexibility over the hours you work, it doesn’t come with traditional benefits, like 401(k) contributions. So today, tens of millions of Americans are looking at a future where they reach the end of their careers with little or no savings.
Given the scale of the self-employed workforce, America’s economic outlook will be impacted. What happens those working for themselves reach the end of their career with little to no savings? Either they’ll be forced to work on and off for the rest of their lives, or they’ll live off of Social Security and/or the charity of friends and family.
America’s current retirement system was never designed for the self-employed professional. But there’s reason to be hopeful.
Both private and public solutions can help freelancers retire safely.
Let’s be clear -- everyone should take responsibly for their own retirement, including the self-employed. But the fact is, humans are bad at making long-term decisions like saving, so they don’t. In light of that, there’s opportunity for public and private support structures to emerge that enable and bolster their planning.
New models -- such as portable retirement benefits, which independent professionals can carry from job to job -- are gaining traction with lawmakers like Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). New York City assembly leader Joseph Morelle is expected to introduce a bill this month which would lay out the first-ever portable benefits plan for workers in the gig economy. This is an encouraging start, though the benefits would likely only extend to professionals who work with large tech companies that voluntarily participate. And as President Trump starts his term, it’s worth noting the GOP platform itself highlights the growing role of independent contractors and entrepreneurs in the New Economy.
But finding solutions to the freelance retirement crisis shouldn’t just be in the hands of the public sector. Private companies are also stepping up to the plate and providing innovative retirement solutions for self-employed professionals. One notable example is MBO Partners, a business operating system for self-employed consultants that offers corporate Solo 401(k) plans for their users.
Financial independence in old age depends on two things -- individuals taking steps to prepare themselves for retirement and the conditions to set them up for success. Those conditions include offerings from the private sector, support from the public and a healthy economy, which we won’t have if we don’t have the others.