How Will The Growing Gig Economy Affect Workers? (infographic)

Technology sometimes solves problems and it sometimes creates problems, oftentimes it does both. One of the biggest problems technology is helping to solve is that of offering nontraditional employment to people who want or need it through apps. But the flipside of that is some people are being forced to work in the gig economy when they would rather have the security of full time traditional employment. In looking at the gig economy through the historical lens, can we understand and address the challenges to its future?

The Origins Of The Gig Economy

Gig work of some kind has likely been around since the beginning of time. The concept of full-time employment or even employment with any sort of restrictions placed on it is a fairly new concept in human history. The term ‘gig’ was coined by jazz musicians around the turn of the last century to connote the performances they would give at venues, and by the 1940s there were temporary agencies representing employees who needed work and placing them in temporary positions. By 1995 10% of Americans worked in alternative employment.


Full time employment is not without its own faults - a 40-hour work week requires significant unpaid labor in the home to make it work, and balancing such a workload with these responsibilities often squeezes out people who don’t have the means to pay for childcare or other domestic help. The gig economy can address this problem by allowing people the flexibility to work when they have time to work instead of when they are told they are expected.

Technology Shaped The Gig Economy Of Today

Once the internet became widely adopted we saw the advent of Craigslist, where people could post jobs for free and others could respond to them. This helped not only traditional employers find new candidates, but it also helped people find odd jobs when they were in a pinch. Upwork was later created to help people find remote work, another piece of the puzzle in getting people the employment they needed when it wasn’t necessarily close to them physically.

Sharing economy apps took old ideas and made them new again - whereas once people could rent rooms long-term by posting on community bulletin boards, AirBNB allowed people to rent rooms on a shorter-term basis, at first to help roommates make rent.


The Gig Work Of Today

Today, more than one in three American workers has done some type of gig work, and since eight in 10 workers own smartphones almost anyone can join in. Around 30% of those engaging in gig work these days are doing it willingly as their sole source of income, while just 16% are doing it full time even though they’d prefer traditional employment and 14% are doing so reluctantly to make ends meet. A whopping 40% are using the gig economy as a side hustle to make a little extra money.

By 2025, online talent platforms could add $2.7 trillion to the global GDP while putting 72 million more people to work. In the United States:
  • 94% of employers would consider nontraditional employment
  • 64% of gig workers say they prefer gig work to traditional employment
  • 57% of adults say increases in gig work hurt workers
Currently there are laws and rules being decided that will impact the future of gig work in the United States and around the world. While some people see increasing gig work as a good thing for workers who want that, others see it as an end to hard-fought worker protections. Learn more about the history and future of gig work and how it will affect gig workers below!

The History and Future of the Gig Economy (infographic)

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