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How Are Gig Workers Faring In Today’s Economy?

Americans are now turning to "gig" work to make quick cash, and also have control over their own work schedules.
Posted at 3:21 PM, Sep 06, 2022

Some Americans looking for a job are seeking ways to make quick cash, or work for themselves in the gig economy. 

"Gig" is actually a slang word for a job with a limited duration.  

Some gig jobs include temporary hires, freelancers, independent contractors or project-based workers.  

The workers could be writers, ride-share drivers, accountants, consultants, handymen, tutors or dog walkers – really anyone who goes into a work agreement with a company without being an official employee or on the company's payroll can be considered a gig worker.

Gig workers have become a major part of the workforce that is only growing. 

In 2017, there were about 13 million gig workers in the U.S.  

That number almost doubled in 2021, with expectations to nearly quadruple by 2027. 

Economists say the increase is associated with two things: the internet and a shift in what workers want in a job.

According to entrepreneurs, more employees are looking for flexible, non 9-to-5 jobs. 

The internet has allowed the gig workforce to work from anywhere, without the need to report in person.  

"I'm my own boss. I can take a break whenever I want to. I can live my life and work at the same time," said Ryan Whyte Maloney, a freelance musician. 

Gig work trends peaked in great part due to the pandemic. 

Lockdowns have spurred employees to look at different opportunities amid a surge in the need for products and services closer to home and socially distanced. 

But with inflation hitting a 40-year high, a new wave is resorting to gig work, and it's adding new pressures to a booming workforce.

A survey of 1,000 workers who turned to gig work in recent months found 85% increased, or plan to increase, their side hustle in the near future.

Almost half said inflation was the main driver in doing more gig work.   

And rising prices on consumers are inevitably impacting their bottom line. 

The summer spike in gas prices sent ride-share drivers struggling to cover their own costs.  

"I can easily make somewhere between $100 to $150, but of course I drive a big SUV, it's the only vehicle that we have at the moment, so it takes about $60 to fill that up," said Carson Johnson, a Doordash driver. 

"That $150 can mean the difference between us being able to get to the grocery store or paying our electric bill, opposed to rent," said Sarah Jones, an Uber driver.

Inflation may be hurting gig workers.  

But gig companies are seeing benefits with Uber, Lyft and Doordash all reporting a rise in driver sign-ups. 

Uber's CEO said over seven in 10 new drivers listed inflation as one of their top reasons for joining. 

Gig jobs aren't new, but economists believe they have become more popular, especially for younger adults. 

"Younger generations are more comfortable with the platforms out there to earn money in a nontraditional way. Like gig work, through working online or remote work, they might just be more comfortable with those platforms," said Anthony Koltz, a business professor at Texas A&M. 

Where the gig worker pipeline will go is anyone's guess, but for now, the gig worker partnership seems to be a lifeline in a world of workers trying to make it to their next pay day.