The Gig Economy Is Still Not a Big Deal

In the LA Times today, Kathy Kristof writes:

Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson recently predicted that by 2020, half of Americans will be self-employed. While this estimate includes freelancers, small business owners and independent contractors, one big reason for the explosive growth in non-employer work is the gig economy. Driving for Uber or Lyft, delivering groceries for Instacart and finding handyman jobs through TaskRabbit may be among the best-known gigs, but there are now hundreds, possibly thousands, of such platforms used by millions of American workers on a part- or full-time basis.

Kristof’s main point is that workers in the gig economy are poorly protected by old-school labor laws. I think she’s right about that, but her piece got me curious about the size of the gig economy. I haven’t checked it out lately, so here it is:

This isn’t a perfect measure, but it’s pretty good. If the gig economy is truly exploding, we’d expect to see, at the very least, an increase in the number of part-time workers. We haven’t. It’s been flat at about 27.5 million for the past nine years, and it’s declined as a percentage of all workers. It’s currently at the same level as 1997 and 2004. The gig economy may be growing, but it can’t be growing very much if the overall figures for part-time workers look like this.


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