Gig Workers Uncertain if They Will Retire, Likely to Self-Fund if They Do

Many freelancers plan to work beyond 65, and 30% say they don’t plan to retire at all.

A new survey of gig workers reveals what many in the retirement industry and public policy have been discussing since the proliferation of non-full-time opportunities: A lack of access to workplace retirement plans may be crimping their long-term saving.

According to a survey released Wednesday by financial firm Legal & General Group, 77% of gig workers say they would rely on their own personal savings to fund their retirement. Additionally, 45% of gig workers do not expect to retire at 65, and 30% never expect to retire at all.

The survey of more than 1,000 freelance workers between 18 and 60 years of age found that their decision to work independently has stymied their ability to save for retirement. That group is not a small part of the U.S. economy, with some 58 million people working as freelancers at the end of 2022, according to research by consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

“The big question on many freelance workers’ minds is: ‘How can I retire?’” the researchers wrote. “More than half (53 percent) of the gig workers we spoke with don’t feel they have effective access to retirement and savings plans, while two-thirds (67 percent) say that not having access to retirement plans and other benefits is a key drawback to working independently.”

Gig Politics

The findings come as a national adviser group is keeping its eye on the potential for gig workers to save for retirement. The head of the National Association of Plan Advisors noted at its national conference on Sunday that gig workers would likely be a key political talking point in coming years for providing a federally-backed retirement plan.

Brian Graff, executive director and CEO of NAPA, was speaking about freelance workers in regard to a 2022 Congressional proposal called the Retirement Savings for America Act. Part of that proposal is a national government-sponsored retirement program that the association head said could undercut the private defined contribution industry.

Meanwhile, the private industry has multiple firms looking to service gig worker saving needs. Just last year, Robinhood, known for digital trading during the pandemic, announced an IRA complete with 1% automatic match marketed at the gig economy.

Your Own CFO

Almost three out of four (73%) of freelancers surveyed by Legal & General Group expect Social Security to cover just 25% of their retirement expenses, according to the researchers. The study found that more than half (53%) of the freelancers surveyed thought that gig work negatively impacted their access to savings and retirement plans, while 29% felt that choosing to work this way negatively affected their ability to save.

Adding to the strain is that many freelancers need to take care of other areas of their finances and benefits often provided by employers.

“Having to plan for and pay one’s own taxes, health insurance, and … long-term retirement needs—all areas that are normally mitigated by employers—puts most gig workers in the position of becoming their own CFO,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers at Legal & General Group noted that gig workers are often financially savvy, citing 2022 Pew research that they generally have higher financial literacy than the general U.S. population. The researchers surmised that the lack of retirement savings in one of the readily available IRA options may stem from the lack of prompt, then habit that workplace plans provide.

“One missing link in financial security for gig workers is the prompt for saving—including having a system in place to keep people from having to think about it very often,” Legal & General noted. “The active initial phase of setting up a structure to ensure saving practices is already being addressed through new technologies in finance, which can render the process of saving seamless and transparent.”

Legal & General Group’s survey sample was sourced from YouGov and was conducted in August 2022.