The rise of the gig economy: It’s a giant myth.

the gig economy is still a figment of the Internet's imagination
Jordan Weissmann, adapted from the Wall Street Journal

From Slate, Jordan Weissman discusses statistics that suggest that workers are less likely to be self-employed or hold multiple jobs than they were ten years ago.  Jordan writes:

“It’s certainly possible that, one day, Silicon Valley darlings like Uber that rely on massive numbers of independent contractors who work as they please will revolutionize the American labor market such that we’ll all end up freelancers patching together a living working gig to gig. But that day hasn’t arrived yet—not even close. As Josh Zumbrun and Anna Louie Sussman recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, American workers are now less likely to be self-employed or hold multiple jobs than they were a decade ago, even in industries, like transportation, where you might already expect to see the Uber effect taking shape.

So, from all available evidence, the rise of the gig economy still seems to be a figment of the Internet’s imagination. That doesn’t make it any less important to discuss the issues raised by companies like Uber or Instacart, which have amassed massive valuations based on their novel labor models. But it does complicate the conversation. On the one hand, everyone can figure out why these startups might be a little problematic. They may only be a small piece of the economy now. But if they show the world that it’s more profitable to use workers on a contract basis, rather than hire them as full employees with all the benefits and protections that entails, other businesses are going imitate them. At that point, fewer Americans will enjoy the stability of a full-time job. On the other hand, it’s possible these companies will turn out to be a net plus as they expand the market for some services, like taxis, and make work more flexible….”

Read the full story at The rise of the gig economy: It’s a giant myth.

I disagree with Jordan’s conclusion that the gig economy is a figment of the Internet’s imagination.  There are many challenges with the data that is being collected.  For example, ranchers tend to be self-employed.  If the number of ranchers has declined in the past ten years, while the number of Uber drivers has increased, the overall number of self-employed people may not have changed, but there is a meaningful change in the economy.  Part of the problem may be that the way we collect data doesn’t fit well with what we need to know.


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