As I wrote previously, it is no secret that labor laws have been unable to keep pace with the changing economy, despite challenges from the bench to address the needs of the gig economy. Certain state legislatures (e.g. Washington) have taken steps to address needs of gig workers, with their ‘Paid Family and Medical Leave’ program expanded to include self-employed workers. And efforts to make portable benefits available to the gig workforce are ongoing, mostly at the state level. However, federal legislative and regulatory entities are seemingly mulling their options and allowing the change to occur from the bottom. Voices from the gig upper strata are becoming impatient, and want immediate legislative change, at the top.
As anyone who has spent a weekend binging an entire season of Stranger Things or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel can tell you, society’s consumption of television has shifted dramatically in the last several years. Discovering viewers’ tendency to “binge-watch” several episodes of television in one-sitting, streaming services have begun producing their own original series, releasing entire seasons at once, at all different times of the year. However, along with this shift, the season size has decreased. Whereas a network television show will typically have 22 episodes in a full season, streaming series more frequently have 13 or fewer.
It should come as no surprise that New York City is home to a large number of freelancers—approximately 400,000 according to the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs. In order to assist this growing population, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment of recently announced that a Freelancers Hub will be opening at the Made in NY Media Center in Brooklyn during the first week of October.
When you think of the gig economy, many of us think of Uber, Task Rabbit, or some other gig shrouded in an entrepreneurial-type aspiration. You think of a person setting their own hours, working for themselves, maybe stringing together several “gigs” to make that ideal work schedule and being their own boss. Well, Wonolo, and companies like it, may be changing this paradigm.
Although legal tests for determining employment status have taken center stage with numerous recent high-profile cases, lurking in the background is a question that may also have implications beyond the gig economy space: what happens if and when traditional “manager” roles are filled by automated systems?
Is there nowhere that the gig economy can’t go? As gig workers expand into increasingly unlikely industries—including restaurants, hospitality, beauty, healthcare, and even science—it comes as no surprise that retail wants in on the action. Would-be retail workers are gaining access to open shifts in storefronts through companies like Snag Work, which offers an on-demand platform that connects workers with open shifts for sales, stocker, cashier, customer service positions, and other roles. Although Snag Work is only in a few cities on the east coast so far, companies like it are already cropping up across the country.
Headlines from mainstream news outlets are reporting that today’s Labor Department report on Contingent and Alternative Employment Arrangements shows that the gig economy is shrinking. “The gig economy is actually smaller than it used to be,” says Marketwatch. From the Washington Post: “There’s a smaller share of workers in the gig economy today than before Uber existed.” From the Los Angeles Times: “Share of Americans working as independent contractors dips.” And most dramatically from Quartz Media: “Everything we thought we knew about the gig economy is wrong.”
The explosion of freelance work has changed the economy in a number of significant ways. After all, by some accounts, 43 percent of U.S. workers will have some involvement in the gig economy by as early as 2020. Of the major industries being impacted, the mortgage lending business seems ripe for drastic changes to longstanding lending guidelines.
When you last heard from me regarding the state of the gig economy, the discussion at the beginning of 2018 focused on the fact that small businesses were joining large corporations in embracing the on-demand model. Now, let’s shift focus from the “who” to the “where” and the “what.”
How much has the gig economy changed in the last 13 years? We’re (finally) about to find out. According to Tyrone Richardson at Bloomberg Law, the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is scheduled to release a report on “contingent and alternative employment arrangements” on June 7, 2018. To put in context how much things have changed since the last time the BLS released such a report—February 2005—that was the same year Destiny’s Child split up and two years before the first iPhone was released. Many of these on-call workers and independent contractors are not included in the BLS’s monthly jobs report despite studies that suggest these types of “alternative” arrangements accounted for 94 percent of net employment growth in the U.S. economy over the last decade.