Can you support your family as a gig economy worker?
Gig jobs are rapidly outpacing the growth of payroll jobs. Because of the 20th century, before App based gigs, employee classifications, gig-economy workers have no rights or protections.
A new study by McKinsey Global Institute estimates about a quarter of the U.S. to be “independent workers” right now. The gig economy, according to a recent Brookings Institution study, is growing faster than payroll jobs. These studies are important to get a picture of how the gig economy is reshaping things because, as it turns out, The Bureau of Labor Statistics stopped counting “contingent workplace” arrangements after 2005. Companies like Uber and Airbnb are private companies and not required to disclose employee numbers. Thanks to Brookings, we can now go to their site and see the figures according to every city. In Los Angeles alone, between 2012 and 2014, payroll employment went up by 12.9% and non-employer employment went up by 135.9%. These gig companies are also not required to provide the usual protections. No unemployment, no health insurance, and, in the example of drivers, the costs (gas, upkeep, wear and tear) are on the worker.
What does this rapidly rising gig economy mean for workers?
For my friend and neighbour, who is a single mother of two boys, the gig economy is as stop-gap as food banks, which they also depend on. She has six of these types of jobs and prefers it because then it is possible to accommodate her kids’ schedule and needs. She wants that flexibility and, despite the insecurity of her situation, their needs are being met. Beyond the hours and requirements of being a damn good parent, she works as much as humanly possible and pays the bills. There is no wiggle room there for health insurance and savings or life insurance. Nor safety measures. She was recently in an accident and got behind because she couldn’t drive until she could secure a rental car. Without the usual protections, one car accident or medical bill could literally put their housing at risk.
The issue is that the “non-employee” designation was formed in the twentieth century long before there was an App based workforce. In order for there to be any rights or protections, the anachronistic classifications will have to be changed. According to a Wired article, independent contractors are not “covered by the federal National Labor Relations Act, which enables employees to negotiate directly with companies. However, there is a precedent for states to let them organise. “Farmworkers in California are not employees and couldn’t legally be represented, but the state passed a law so they could be covered,” says Teamsters organiser Dawn Gearhart, who is leading the Seattle effort—the first of its kind in the country to target gig-economy workers.”
The question is, will the states or federal government act quickly enough, considering the staggering rate at which the gig economy is surpassing the payroll jobs? Let’s hope so.