True Lies about the Gig Economy Part 2

If you want to know how to thrive in the Gig Economy, download my free e-book The Gig Worker Mindset. Learn the qualities that make gig workers – and traditional careerists – more successful. 

See my previous post True Lies about the Gig Economy part 1.

I’ve written about the Gig Economy for years, in part because I am living as a gig worker by choice. Millions of workers all over the world have chosen gig work to supplement, replace, or enhance their full-time jobs. My Google alert for the Gig Economy brings dozens of articles into my inbox every day. Bloggers, journalists, book authors, and economists are finally paying close attention to the trend that Daniel Pink identified two decades ago in his 2001 book Free Agent Nation. It’s the book that started me on my path to becoming a gig worker.

Everyone’s talking about the Gig Economy, but lots of them are still getting it wrong.

True Lie about the Gig Economy #2: Gig jobs are low-paid and unskilled work.

A search for “Gig Economy” produces over 60 million results, and most of them define the Gig Economy as a place where low-skill workers earn peanuts for on demand work. Wikipedia’s definition says this: “Gig workers are independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers and temporary workers. Gig workers enter into formal agreements with on-demand companies to provide services to the company’s clients.” Uber, Lyft, Fiverr, TaskRabbit. Yes, they started the platforms that scaled the Gig Economy and connected millions of people to gigs.

No good deed goes unpunished.

Technology platforms like Uber offer gigs to millions of workers worldwide. By some estimates, almost half of all millennials use online gig economy platforms to find work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the U.S. gig workforce at over 57 million individuals.  The number of gig workers skyrocketed during the 2020 pandemic lockdowns, when workers lost their full-time positions and found work providing services like transportation, food delivery, and other services for people who could not leave their homes.

(Source: Statista) In 2020, about 32% or the gig workforce identified as independent contractors; 21% identified as moonlighters, working outside their regular jobs. Five percent identified as temporary workers, a career choice that’s been around since Manpower pioneered the option in 1948. 36 percent of gig workers identify as “diversified” workers: those working multiple gigs either by choice or to generate sustainable income through multiple sources when one source won’t be enough. Many diversified workers also choose multiple clients or employers in order to mitigate risk, just as you would diversify an investment portfolio.

So we know lots of workers are choosing gig work – or choosing it until they can find their next career position. But the assumption that they’re all delivering takeout gives the wrong impression of the true Gig Economy.

Don’t forget that creatives have always been gig workers. Musicians created the term “gig” to define their short-term engagements. Almost every creative, from photographers to writers, graphic designers, artists, actors and all the production professionals for television, movies, and other media – all of them accept and embrace the idea of specific projects, rather than full-time jobs.

IT has also long been a gig industry. Technology executives often employ specialists to develop, program, install or repair software and network systems. An IT gig may last several months, even years, but it’s understood among highly-skilled professionals understand that they’ll get paid top dollar for their skills, then move on to another project.

Accounting, tax, and legal professionals, consultants, coaches, and other business professionals may not typically call themselves gig workers, but they make their living by serving a variety of clients in a variety of ways, some long-term and some short-term engagements. Gigs by another name.

Gig workers are educated and skilled; 32% have some college education; 32% have a bachelor’s degree, and 45% have advanced degrees. A 2020 survey by freelance platform Upwork says that many gig workers reported earning as much or more as they earned in their full-time jobs.; 65% said they make more money than when they had a traditional employer. Of them, 57% began earning more in under six months into freelancing. Freelancers earned $1.2 trillion in 2020, up from $984 billion in  2019.

The Gig Economy is much more complex than taco delivery and rides on demand. When someone talks about insecure, vulnerable workers who need legislative protections to survive, they may have the best of intentions. But they may not have all the information.

Read the 2020 Upwork Freelance survey here.

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