Perhaps the most significant development involving independent contractor compliance and misclassification issues in December 2021 received relatively scant attention: a detailed empirical study based on survey results of a cross-section of Americans entitled “The State of Gig Work in 2021.” The study was undertaken by Pew Research Center, a non-partisan think tank. One of its most important conclusions involves the self-perception of gig workers: “65% see themselves as independent contractors, while 28% view themselves as employees.” Another key conclusion is that almost twice as many Americans support maintaining the status quo in government regulation of companies using gig economy workers. These and other results of the study are likely to influence federal and state legislators who may consider changing existing laws governing independent contractors. The study confirms that an overwhelming percentage of freelancers and other gig workers want legislators and government agencies to take a hands-off approach and leave existing independent contractor laws intact. These and other conclusions of the study are discussed in more depth below.
RESEARCH CENTER STUDY OF GIG WORK FINDS THAT “AMERICANS PREFER THE STATUS QUO REGARDING GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT IN REGULATING [GIG ECONOMY] COMPANIES.” On December 8, 2021, the Pew Research Center released its non-partisan study entitled “The State of Gig Work in 2021,” an update of its 2016 research study. The study initially finds that as many as 16% of all working-age Americans have earned money through an online gig platform, and in the case of younger adult Americans (those aged 18 to 29), the number is 30%. It next found that the overwhelming percentage of gig workers (68%) perform gig work “on the side,” whereas only 31% perform such work as “their primary way of earning a living.” The study then finds that 41% of gig workers work less than 10 hours a week and only 8% of gig workers work more than 30 hours a week.
One of the most significant conclusions of the study, based on survey results from over 10,000 U.S. adults, is the perception of American adults in general and gig workers in particular about the classification of gig workers. 62% of survey participants “say the most appropriate way to describe ride-hailing drivers is as independent contractors” while “[s]maller shares (35%) say these drivers are best described as employees.” The study continues: “Gig platform workers’ self-perception follows a similar pattern – 65% see themselves as independent contractors, while 28% view themselves as employees.”
Perhaps the most important findings of the study address policy matters: “Americans prefer the status quo regarding government involvement in regulating [gig economy] companies.” The study finds that almost twice as many Americans “do not support changes in government regulation – they say the government should regulate companies that offer ride-hailing apps such as Uber or Lyft the same as they are now.” This final conclusion of the study should be meaningful to legislators thinking about current or future bills that would change independent contractor laws with bills intended to either curtail or invalidate otherwise legitimate independent contractor relationships (as supported by Democratic legislators) or to increase and endorse such relationships (as endorsed by Republican legislators). It is plain that the public in general and gig workers in particular (who themselves represent a rather sizeable segment of the electorate) want legislators to leave intact the status quo in this area of the law.