There’s lots of competing takes on the size and scale of the gig economy. As in some many policy areas, it depends on who’s counting and what they’re counting. But, regardless of the various disputes, we know that the gig economy workforce is big and growing. I’ve long referred to the gig workforce as the “Forgotten Fifth,” i.e., the one-fifth of American workers who operate in the gig economy, without a real safety net or other labor protections. A new MetLife census of the gig economy (Note: Registration required for full report) makes a similar estimate, arguing that 30 million Americans make their primary income from gig or part-time work. An additional 15 million Americans use gig work as an income supplement. Most of these workers (85%) like gig work, and intend to continue in this mode. And, folks with “real jobs” are jealous, as nearly 49% of them report that they are considering taking on gig work or careers in the next five years.
MetLife is interested in this topic because gig workers are understandably interested in receiving benefits while retaining their independent status. At present, less than 5% of gig economy workers receive benefits from their employer(s). If firms and insurance providers can find a way to offer this new type of flexible benefit package, it would greatly reduce the risks of gig work and help firms better attract and retain talent. From a policy perspective, creation of gig benefits may offer a decent solution to the problem of building a safety net for freelance workers. We can’t keep ignoring the pressing needs of 45 million American workers who want jobs and careers that provide meaningful work and a real safety net.