In her 40 years as a photographer in the Denver area, Jill Kaplan did not think she would need her social work degree.
But when it became harder to make a living as a professional photographer, she joined a growing army of part-time workers across the country who help older people living independently, completing household tasks and providing companionship.
Elder concierge, as the industry is known, is a way for the semi- and fully retired to continue to work, and, from a business standpoint, the opportunities look as if they will keep growing. Around 10,000 people turn 65 every day in the United States, and by 2030, there will be 72 million people over 65 nationwide.
Some 43 million people already provide care for family members – either their own parents or children – according to AARP, and half of them are “sandwich generation” women, ages 40 to 60. All told, they contribute an estimated $470 billion a year in unpaid assistance.
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Seven years ago, Kaplan, 63, made the leap, signing up with Denver-based Elder Concierge Services. She makes $25 to $40 an hour for a few days a week of work. She could be driving older clients to doctor’s appointments, playing cards or just acting as an extra set of eyes and ears for family members who aren’t able to be around but worry about their older relatives being isolated and alone. Many baby boomers themselves are attracted to the work because they feel an affinity for the client base.
“It’s very satisfying,” she said of the work, which supplements her photography income. Like others in search of additional money, she could have become an Uber driver but said this offered her a chance to do something “more meaningful.”
“We see a lot of women,” Kaplan said, “who had raised their families and cared for their parents out there looking for a purpose.”
Concierges are not necessarily social workers by background, and there isn’t a formal licensing program. They carry out tasks or help their customers complete the relatively mundane activities of everyday life, and just need to be able to handle the sometimes physical aspects of the job, like pushing a wheelchair.
Medical care is left to professionals. Instead, concierges help out around the house, get their client to appointments, join them for recreation and run small errands.
While precise statistics are not available for the elder concierge industry, other on-demand industries have flourished, and baby boomers are a fast-growing worker population.
Nancy LeaMond, the AARP’s executive vice president and chief advocacy officer, said: “Everyone assumed the on-demand economy was a millennial thing. But it is really a boomer thing.”
LeaMond noted that while people like the extra cash, they also appreciate the “extra engagement.”
A variety of companies have sprung up, each fulfilling a different niche in the elder concierge economy.
In some areas, elder concierges charge by the hour, anywhere from $30 to $70, or in blocks of time, according to Katharine Giovanni, the director of the International Concierge & Lifestyle Management Network. Those considering going into the business should have liability insurance, Giovanni said.
One startup, AgeWell, employs able-bodied older people to assist less able people of the same age, figuring the two will find a social connection that benefits overall health.
The company was founded by Mitch Besser, a doctor whose previous work involved putting HIV-positive women together in mentoring relationships. AgeWell employees come from the same communities as their clients, some of whom are out of reach of medical professionals until an emergency.
The goal is to provide consistent monitoring to reduce or eliminate full-blown crises. AgeWell began in South Africa but recently got a grant to start a peer-to-peer companionship and wellness program in New York.
Elsewhere, in San Francisco, Justin Lin operates Envoy, a network of stay-at-home parents and part-time workers who accept jobs like grocery delivery, light housework and other tasks that don’t require medical training. Each Envoy employee is matched to a customer, who pays $18 to $20 an hour for the service, on top of a $19 monthly fee.
The inspiration for the company came from Lin’s work on a startup called Mamapedia, an online parental wisdom-sharing forum, where he noticed a lot of people talking about the need for family care workers. He decided to start Envoy two years ago, after his own mother died of cancer, leaving him and his father to care for a disabled brother.
The typical Envoy employee works a few hours a week, so it won’t replace the earnings from a full-time job. But it nevertheless involves more interpersonal contact than simply standing behind a store counter.
“It’s not going to pay the rent,” Lin said. “They want to be flexible but also make a difference.”
Katleen Bouchard, 69, signed up with Envoy three years ago, after retiring from an advertising career. She gets $20 an hour working a handful of hours a week with older clients in her rural community in Sonoma County, California. She sees it as a chance to be civic-minded. “It’s very easy to help and be of service,” Bouchard said.
Companies like AgeWell and Envoy are part of the growing on-demand economy, where flexibility and entrepreneurship have combined to create a new class of workers, said Mary Furlong, a Silicon Valley consultant who specializes in the job market for baby boomers. At the same time, many retirees – as well as those on the cusp of retirement – worry that market volatility may hit their savings.
The extra income from the job, Furlong said, could help cover unexpected expenses. “You don’t know what the shocks are going to be that interrupt your plan,” she added.