A Safety Net for the Freelance Economy?

As someone who has spent many years in Washington, I can get as cynical as anyone about the dysfunctions of our current political system.  But, sometimes, a guy has to have some hope.   And, some recent announcements  from Senator Mark Warner’s (D-VA) camp give me some cause for optimism that we may start to see some robust public discussion about one of my favorite topics:  the 1099 Economy (or Gig Economy).   Recent news stories have been filled with discussions about unstable work schedules, millennial dissatisfaction in the workplace, and the like.   Underlying all of these issues is a basic structural disconnect:   our work and career patterns have become much more flexible, complex, and unstable.  At the same time, our political/legal structures and business practices have not evolved to keep pace.  Flexibility can be a good thing if it helps people pursue entrepreneurial dreams and achieve greater work-life balance.  But, for many, these labor market shifts create great uncertainty and insecurity.

Sen. Warner has stated that he will soon release a series of proposals on how to create stronger safety net for what he calls the “gig economy.”   Among the issues he’ll consider is some form of safety net support for independent workers that operates akin to the private health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.  Groups like the Freelancer’s Union are already testing small scale models of this approach.  The devil will be in the details, but Warner’s interest in this topic—and his history of bipartisanship—suggest that we may finally start to see some interesting public discussions about how to create a more flexible entrepreneurial economy that can work for everyone.    Watch this space for future discussions.

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