In 2018, the gig economy that has built around the gig economy has taken hold in the U.S. and Canada. An estimated 80 million Americans do at least some of their earning through employment that relies on an internet connection and is not full-time, for example, a waitressing gig, as well as thousands who earn a living through freelance consulting, freelancing, on-demand or on-demand-on-demand projects such as Lyft or an eBay auction, according to a new report by Transparent Labs, an entrepreneurship and innovation services company.
This is a sprawling sector that has managed to thrive despite growing complaints of worker exploitation, mostly by immigrant workers on the peripheries of a gaggle of gig economy companies.
This wave of gig economy activity has all taken place under an umbrella term, “alternative work,” that encompasses temporary work and gig economy workers. It’s an oddly neutral term that throws out about six dozen prospective pejoratives.
“I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop, staring at a browser window for a decade, staring at the companies that use my skills and talents every day,” said Aaron Kremer, an economist at Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, who spoke to the Seattle Times and the Washington Post about this last mile gig economy issue.
His perspective is interesting. Kremer is interested in the work ethic of the gig economy and whether it deserves the title that it has landed under. As he explains it: “The gig economy is giving way to the full-time gig economy. Maybe this is a just response to the automation of even more jobs, so you’re left with a lot more underutilized skills and expertise.”
Without a heavy understanding of what lies on the digital periphery of the gig economy, we are left to form our own conclusions about it. And it’s an opaque, unstable class of laborers whose income depends on regular and erratic chunks of time. Is there a concern here about either skill erosion or skill deficiency?
“The short-term gig economy is primarily a marriage of today’s workers and technologies,” said Kris Gale, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon’s Initiative on Work and Employment Mobility. “A need to work less-than-average hours versus higher productivity produces the idea of the hourly gig economy.”
With this research, Carnegie Mellon University has issued a call for an infrastructure project to achieve a better understanding of the gig economy economy. This effort will help to create a single data set of gig economy gig participants. All in the hopes of revealing a better understanding of how this stage of economic change plays out across urban settings. This will ultimately shape public policy.
In both of the Wall Street Journal articles related to this project, researchers who are taking an interest in the gig economy, whether they are for the gig economy or its community, want to bring an understanding to better strategy for businesses, societies and governments.
“I’m not going to support the state forcing you to have overtime, but we should probably ask the question, ‘What else can I do?’” Gale said.
Time will tell what will be the ultimate result of this research and how policymakers grapple with the array of technological advancements in the gig economy sector.