New Data on the Gig Economy

The gig economy is a hot topic today, and I could probably do a daily blog post on the latest research and findings on its impact and importance.  But, with the booming interest, it becomes important to separate the wheat from the chaff.  A new study of the gig economy from the McKinsey Global Institute falls into the “worth a look” category.  Independent Work:  Choice, Necessity and the Gig Economy is one of the most comprehensive looks at why people opt for independent work and what they think about the experience.  The McKinsey researchers surveyed over 8,000 people in the US and Europe, finding that as many as 162 million people (20-30% of the workforce) participate in some form of independent work. That’s a pretty astounding figure.

They identify four categories of independent workers.  Free agents and casual workers choose independent  work, while the reluctants and the financially strapped are forced by necessity to pursue independent work as part of income patching process.   For many economic developers, the free agents are the group of greatest interest.  They are about 30% of the independent workforce.  They tend to be satisfied with their work, showing satisfaction rates much higher than those in traditional jobs.   Via independent work, free agents working in high demand fields can actually boost their incomes, when compared to those on a traditional career ladder.

If economic developers are serious about promoting equity, they’ll also need to address the challenges facing the reluctant and financially strapped independent workers who collectively compose another 30% of this workforce.    These workers face the opposite situation from their free agent counterparts.  They make as much as 18% less than their compatriots in traditional jobs, and they are also more likely to be living in poverty and to be receiving government benefits.   The pressures of two-tiered economy appear to be even more pronounced for those living and working in the gig economy.

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