Thursday, February 11, 2016

How Many Americans Are "Gig" Workers?

A surprisingly large percentage of Americans engage in informal paid work, according to the Survey of Informal Work Participation—and the percentage who participate in the "gig" economy is growing. The Informal Work Participation survey was included in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Survey of Consumer Expectations in December 2013 and again in January 2015 in an attempt to measure the percentage of Americans who participate in alternative income-generating activities and how their participation is changing. These activities include babysitting, housesitting, dog walking, lawn care, elder care, personal services (such as taxi service), selling online, renting property, consignment sales, and so on.

The 2013 survey found a substantial 40 percent of respondents participating in informal paid work. Two years later, the 2015 survey found a much larger 52 percent participating. Behind the increase, theorize researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, is greater work opportunities provided by Uber and other online platforms.

With so many participating in informal paid work, "It is important to determine whether the meaning of 'employed' status according to the BLS might be changing over time," say the researchers. At this point, however, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is not able to make that determination because it has not collected data on the informal (or "contingent") workforce since 2005—long before the likes of Uber appeared on the scene. Fortunately, the BLS has been funded to update the survey in a supplement to the May 2017 Current Population Survey. Until then, the results from the Survey of Informal Work Participation are perhaps the best available estimates of the "gig" workforce.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Changing Patterns in Informal Work Participation in the United States 2013-2015

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