Gig Work Continues to Thrive in the Pandemic

In 2020, the gig economy grew 33%. These are enviable numbers on their own, but they become especially impressive when one considers that the gig economy expanded 8.25 times faster than the US economy as a whole. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the worst overall economy since the Great Depression. Official unemployment figures reached 14%. Unable to rely on savings and government assistance alone, millions of Americans turned to gig work for supplemental income.

This acceptance of gig work as income of last resort explains some of gig work’s prominence in 2020, but it is not the whole story. The truth is that gig work has been a growing part of the economy for some time. The COVID-19 encouraged its spread, but it did not start the trend. In the last few years, the gig economy has seen massive growth. Over 55 million workers in the US participate in the gig economy, and by 2027, almost half the population will have engaged in gig work for either supplemental or primary employment.

Gig work encompasses a wide variety of industries, but the gig that flourished the most under lockdown restrictions was delivery service. Apps like DoorDash and Instacart rely on delivery drivers to fulfill user orders. These drivers set their own hours in response to market conditions and individual needs, making them a premier example of gig workers. Even with lockdowns receding around the country, many people still enjoy the services delivery drivers provide them. The delivery services space is expected to reach a total value of $200 billion by 2025.

Other examples of gig jobs include home repairs, babysitting, personal training, event photography, and dog grooming. While some jobs require a state license, others are open to anyone willing to develop the reputation and experience to attract clients. Thus one of the benefits of gig work is its relatively low barriers to entry. High school grads have just as many chances to succeed as college degree holders in the gig economy.

Beyond its openness to all, gig work provides a number of benefits. Flexible employment based on project completion means most gig workers work relatively few hours to make ends meet. 58% of gig workers report working less than 30 hours a week, even while many of them made more than their traditionally employed peers. While exact income varies by client and number of projects accepted in a given time period, many freelancers would argue this makes their job more secure instead of less. It’s the basic principle of diversification at work; losing one client costs some income, but a traditionally-employed person losing their one job causes financial devastation.

There are many reasons for workers to appreciate gig work, but why might a company be partial to it? 4 in 5 US companies want to increase their use of gig workers going forward. The answer may come from what businesses learned during the pandemic: the future is uncertain. Rather than hiring workers for years of traditional employment, the gig economy allows companies to take their labor force one project at a time. If the company appreciates a worker’s performance on one project, they can then hire them for another. Less commitment equals less risk on a firm’s end.

Does this make you want to get involved in the gig economy? The first step is to establish yourself on an online platform. Gig job boards are how 70% of freelancers find work. Building your profile means expanding your experience and professional reputation. Don’t specialize in one service right away. Instead, consider a wide range of services available and try everything you can.
How The Global Pandemic Transformed The Gig Economy - infographic
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