People have written a lot about the significance of the gig economy, and almost always point to one company when they talk about it. Can you guess it? Yes, I’m talking about Uber. But what percentage of the workforce does Uber and other online platforms like Uber make up? Less than .5%. People love to talk about Uber and what it represents for our economy, and maybe it points to a transformation, but it hasn’t happened yet, or at least the numbers don’t bear it out.
That doesn’t mean temp or contingent workers aren’t a big presence in the economy. They are. While stats aren’t kept to give a perfect representation, most economists put the number somewhere around 15% of the workforce as set up on a temporary basis with no explicit or implicit agreement for a long-term tenure. This number has risen steadily from the 1995 when the percentage was 6.9%. So this, I guess, is your gig economy. But the implications of that term don’t seem to meet up with the reality.
Health care leads the sectors in hiring of temporary or contract employees. Education, construction then professional services round out the top 4. These numbers pretty much reflect the overall economy. A lot of people have attributed this gig economy to millennials who lack an attention span or can’t seem to commit, but the major drivers of temporary work are aged 55 to 74, so unless they’ve expanded the definition of millennial even wider than it’s already ridiculously long span then it seems like the numbers aren’t cooperating.
We have seen growth in the trend of temporary workers, but it doesn’t seem to fit the narratives bandied about in the Op-Ed pages. Contingent work makes a lot of sense for our dynamic economy, and it’s usually skilled and highly educated people that fill these roles. We look forward to the trend increasing, but not from some spike in Uber drivers.
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