It feels like the “gig economy” (also referred to euphemistically as the “sharing economy”) has taken over. Uber, Grubhub, TaskRabbit, wherever you look, it seems like employees are being replaced by independent contractors or temporary workers who are being exploited by internet-based companies. This perception is stoked by predictions in the tech industry, such as Intuit’s recent claim that by 2020, 43 percent of workers will be employed in the on-demand labor market. (Of course, Intuit markets its products to “on-demand employers,” so such predictions should be taken with a grain of salt.)
A tectonic shift of this nature would upend the way that we think about work and wages. Among other things, independent contractors are not subject to many wage and hour requirements, such as overtime and the minimum wage. And temp workers often struggle to piece together a livable income from multiple sources of employment.
But how many workers are actually transitioning to the gig economy? Until recently, no one really knew. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, normally a good source for such information, had not addressed this issue since 2005. (BLS has promised to publish a survey regarding this issue in 2017. See beta.bls.gov/labs/blogs/2016/03/03/why-this-counts-measuring-gig-work/) Fortunately, in the meantime, Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger have written a concise and clear paper called “The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015.” It is available online at krueger.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/akrueger/files/katz_krueger_cws_-_march_29_20165.pdf.