The Gig Economy in 2019

As 2019 opens for business, public debates about the size and importance of the gig economy are likely to remain in the news.  I expect we’ll see several trends over the next few months.  Certainly, we’ll see continued debate on the size of the gig economy.  Just last week, the authors of a major gig economy study, Alan Krueger and Lawrence Katz, have retracted their original findings, arguing that they overestimated the number of gig economy workers.  They now estimate that 2% of the US workforce has non-traditional employment—as compared to their earlier assessment of five percent.   A Bureau of Labor Statistics study, released last summer, found that about 10% of US workers in non-traditional employment situations.  But, these studies are certainly not the last word—as solid data on the gig or 1099 economy is still lacking.  For example, the Federal Reserve’s annual survey of household economic well-being finds that 31% of Americans engaged in gig work in 2017.  So, we can expect to see continued debate—and varying estimates—on the size of the gig economy.

Meanwhile, local leaders will likely plow ahead and simply assume that, regardless of size, the gig economy is with us and that new programs and policies are needed to address its impacts.  On this front, I’m heartened by Brooklyn’s new Freelancers Hub, a joint effort of the Freelancers Union and the City of New York.  This is one of the nation’s first workforce development efforts specifically targeted to freelancers.  It operates as a coworking space, so, in this sense, it’s not unique.  But it is unique in that it provides specialized training and support programs for freelancers, much like what you would find at typical workforce one-stop center.  The hub is booming, and it already has 4000 members since it opened in October 2018.  Hopefully, more communities will embrace this kind of new and innovative thinking about the gig economy in 2019.