How people live, work and play has changed significantly over the past decade, thanks to advancements in mobile technology and accelerated smartphone adoption. In addition, hyper-connectivity and social connections have opened the door wide open for new ways to make and spend money.
Technology platform companies like TaskRabbit, Uber, Etsy and AirBnB, have also been a major driving force in creating this new economy that gave birth to temporary work engagement – a “gig” – that is fundamentally changing our perception of work. The distinctive commonality is the facilitation of direct transactions between consumer and producer using mobile apps that allow flexible work schedules for gig workers, along with the freedom and personal fulfillment.
As with most recent lifestyle movements, Millennials are leading the way in opting out of the traditional workforce to engage and expand on the growth of this alternative work arrangement.
So, is this gig economy truly the future of work? Recent research and statistic reports seem to think so.
A 2017 Deloitte study indicated that overall self-employment is likely to triple to 42 million workers by 2020, with millennials leading the way. Both Intuit and Emergent Research predicted that the number of people working on-demand jobs will grow from 3.9 million Americans in 2016 to 9.2 million by 2021. According to the latest June 2018 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.5 million people are working in “contingent” or “alternative work arrangements”. Nearly 6 million people, 3.8% of workers, held contingent jobs in the US in May 2018. Another 10.6 million were working as independent contractors, on-call workers, temporary help agency workers and for contract firms.
We hired Caitlyn in the summer of 2017 to contribute as a guest blogger. This is her first-person account as a gig worker.
Guest Contributor | Caitlyn Waldman
I quit my job as a server in December 2014. I felt like I was dying inside. That's not to say people can't enjoy working in the restaurant industry, and the money wasn't bad either. For me, I just wasn't very happy.
After I took a month off on a mini East Coast adventure and came back – unsurprisingly – I was broke and unemployed.
The thought of going back to the service industry worried me, but I didn't have the experience to do anything else. To explain just how ridiculous the minimum requirements can be, I found an entry-level position that asked for 10+ years. Then, on Craigslist, I found an ad for TaskRabbit – a gig based, make-your-own price job.
The sharing economy is another way to say "a gig battle royale". As the market becomes saturated with workers, prices are forced to become competitive. While home shares and ride shares are dependent upon distance or stay duration, companies like TaskRabbit, Gigwalk, and Upwork depend on the consumer. Competitive prices mean lowering it until you're forced to take the maximum number of jobs a day (25) to break even.
Uber and Lyft are dependent upon demand and distance. While drivers can make up to $15 - $20 an hour, certain areas of America, Detroit for example, make roughly $9 an hour – less than the cost of living. Since wage comes from the driver's choice in work hours, their paycheck isn't always guaranteed. Residents of Detroit, on Tax Day, will need to pay 2.4% of their annual income.
Temp-to-hire and contract positions are all over job hunting sites. Many contractors are treated like full-time employees without the benefits or pay full-timers would make. What was once a project to project basis is now a rolling uncertain future.
Searching for a job mid-contract, maybe even finding another contractor position would mean leaving the role you already have. But breaking your agreement could result in bad optics, especially if prospective employers speak to former managers.
The gig economy has become a large part of work culture, especially in cities such as San Francisco and New York. San Francisco now requires freelancers to register with the city. Freelance writers, on average, make nearly $25 an hour. The average rent of a one bedroom in San Francisco is $3,400, and according to Numbeo, a cost of living calculator. The average single adult has approximately $1,100 in monthly expenses. Minus rent.
Others have taken to working second and third jobs at night and weekends to make ends meet, to have a life. All work and no play....with the knife dangling overhead, how can this be sustainable?
I mentioned earlier, I didn't have the experience to enter into a career, more or less a part-time office job. One of TaskRabbit's selling points was that you could build up your experience and move on to another job, maybe even continuing on as a Tasker on the weekends for that sweet, sweet disposable income. Unfortunately, interviewers didn't accept that. I worked as a Tasker for two years before I was able to get a contractor position at Y Studios after meeting with them for usability testing a year prior.
A contract ending doesn't mean being "let go" or "fired" so filing for unemployment isn't an option to tide one over until something new comes up. The gig economy, a new way to be your own boss, creating the freedom people always dream of, is a difficult life that requires constant forethought.
If something doesn't roll over, you have to be ready.
See other PERSPECTIVE Reports