Popular Wisdom May Not Match the True State of the Gig Economy

There’s quite a bit of buzz these days about the gig economy—and its growth. As it turns out, though, popular wisdom might not actually be that representative of the true state of affairs.


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BLS Data Disputes Notion of Growing Gig Economy

In a recent article for HR Dive, Kathryn Moody cites Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data showing that “the size of the contingent workforce has shrunk since it was last measured in 2005 — contradicting other studies.”
Moody goes on to write that, according to BLS data, “5.9 million people (up to 3.8% of all workers) held contingent jobs in May 2017, defined as workers who do not expect their jobs to last or are temporary. In February 2005, 4.1% of people employed held such jobs, and in February 1995, it was 4.9%.”

An Issue of Terminology?

Terminology may be a factor here. Moody writes that the study also separately considered “alternative work arrangements.” The BLS defined these as including independent contractors, on-call workers, temp agency workers, and contract firm workers. In May 2017, 10.6 million people considered themselves independent contractors, or around 6.9% of total employment.
Additionally, there is a category of labor entirely unaccounted for in the study—what is labeled “electronically mediated employment.” This includes those who found work or short tasks through a mobile app or website. Those data will come out in September, according to the BLS.

Full Economy Also Impacts Temp Work

The gig economy may seem like the wave of the future based on the emergence of high-profile gig economy companies like Uber. However, it’s important to keep in mind that with the unemployment rate at historically low levels, there may be less of an impetus for workers to seek out supplemental income.
Still, gig workers offer benefits to employers of all sizes to help fill peaks and valleys in demand of various kinds and to provide access to specialized skills and talent not available in certain markets.

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