A Day in the Working Life
» 25% — Percentage of part-time workers in Florida who are over age 65
» 41% — Percentage of workers over age 65 who work part time
» 9% — Percentage of workers over 65 who have multiple jobs
» 18% — About one-fifth of part-time workers 65 and older say they’d prefer to be working full time
Fitting older, self-employed workers like Rose Marie Prins into jobs categories is tough — her economic sector can depend on the day of the week.
On the third floor of St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Rose Marie Prins goes door to door greeting patients as she pulls a suitcase filled with crayons, markers and other art supplies. “Hi, my name is Rose Marie,” she says. “I’m an artist, and I’m here to make art with you.”
Ken Wood, hospitalized with a kidney stone just before last Christmas, decides to make a greeting card for the nursing staff. At his bedside, Prins hands him construction paper and colored pencils, and he draws a snow scene with children sledding near a house.
“I haven’t done this since I was a kid,” he says, cautioning Prins to go easy on him. “I’m not very good at it.”
Prins gives him a few pointers, and they enjoy some friendly banter before Wood’s pain returns, and he has to stop. She quickly packs up her belongings and wishes him a speedy recovery. She then heads to a classroom to lead a teambuilding exercise for a group of phlebotomists, who talk shop and share hospital jokes as they make greeting cards.
Prins’ primary vocational interest has always been art. Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, she worked as a graphic artist in London, Toronto and Johannesburg and once owned a women’s clothing store in her hometown.
After moving to the U.S. in the 1970s, she became adept at generating enough income from arts-related work to support her and her son. “Once in a while,” she recalls, “I’d have a regular 9-to-5 job. During those periods, I’d be very depressed come Sunday afternoon.”
In 1998, she earned a Ph.D. in studio arts and arts administration from Union Institute and University in Cincinnati. She hoped to find a full-time faculty position, but her only job opportunities “were in places I didn’t want to live,” she says.
She left a job as an arts administrator in Virginia to move to St. Petersburg in 2000. Since then, she has cobbled together several sources of income to stay afloat.
An unexpected source of income for Prins is Tampa Bay’s large health care sector. Seven years ago, a St. Petersburg non-profit group called Creative Clay Cultural Arts Center partnered with local hospitals to send artists to the bedsides of patients to provide a therapeutic distraction from their illnesses.
And so on Mondays, St. Anthony’s brings her in to make art with patients in its oncology unit. On Thursdays and Fridays, she’s at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, working with pediatric cancer patients.
Last New Year’s Eve, she spent a halfhour in the oncology unit at All Children’s with 14-year-old Cora Covington, hospitalized with Sickle cell-related pain. Cora’s two sisters, Ira, 12, and Maya, 9, clustered around her bed to make art collages with Prins, giving their mom, LaMecca, a much-needed break. “They get antsy in here,” LaMecca Covington says. When Prins is there, Covington says, “I just lay back and relax.”
Prins is paid on an hourly basis for her hospital work. She also teaches painting as an adjunct art professor in the Program for Experienced Learners at Eckerd College. And on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she teaches painting classes to adults at the Morean Arts Center downtown. Those jobs pay her on a per-student basis.
Eight years ago, she converted her garage into a studio and began creating art and holding daylong mixed media workshops and private art lessons there, charging $90 for a two-hour session. She maintains a website and social-media presence to promote her artwork. Occasionally, she sells a piece of art for up to several thousand dollars.
“If I was painting flamingoes and beach scenes in an impressionistic way, I’d probably be doing really well financially. But that’s not what I do,” she says. “I do non-representational art. I can’t rely on sales of my art to survive.”
Meanwhile, she rents out a spare bedroom in her small home to generate an additional $950 a month. All told, she makes about $4,000 a month, including Social Security.
Florida’s population is growing older and changing the face of the work force. Nearly a fifth of Florida’s population is aged 65 or older. By 2030, it will be one in four.
Like Prins, many are working past the traditional retirement age. A quarter of Floridians over 65 are employed in some capacity, according to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Florida. About 40% of post-retirement-age workers are employed part time — though 18% of them wish they were working full time — and nearly 10% have multiple jobs.
Prins says she enjoys the freedom that comes from being an independent contractor and picking and choosing her assignments.
Fortunately, she adds, she’s eligible for Medicare and does not need employer- sponsored health insurance. She also lives frugally; her only debt is her mortgage and student loans.
“I’ve always worked part time, which means I’ve had to fly by the seat of my pants — a lot,” she says.
Artists: Rose Marie Prins is part of Tampa Bay’s growing arts community. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of independent artists, writers and performers increased 44% locally to 5,902, according to U.S. Census data. All told, they accounted for sales of about $103 million in 2012 — or $17,500 per person.