Gig Economy — Odd Name For Life-Blood For So Many

Lately, “gig economy” and “gig workers” are phrases that have been tossed about in the news, thanks to app-based platforms like Uber, Task Rabbit, Fivrr and GrubHub, among others.  Gig economy has manifested itself in all fields of work from home repairs to health care to housecleaning, delivery services, and more. Various surveys have shown that many workers need the flexibility such platforms provide — either because caring for loved ones precludes them from holding a standard, 9-to-5 job, or for similar reasons. The problem, of course, is that these gig jobs usually don’t provide any health or retirement benefits, and the pay is routinely lower than in the conventional workplace.

Based on corporate the success of such platforms — and the needs that arose during the height of the pandemic — gig workers have quickly become a core feature of our current economy. But in job sectors where wage theft, unsafe working conditions and racial and gender discrimination have been documented, how do we ensure that gig workers are paid and treated fairly?

Such questions have spurred the ongoing argument as to whether to classify gig workers as independent contractors or employees. The argument is one example of a larger effort to change the current one-sided efficiency model of gig working to a more equitable two-sided model. Here’s what that means:

The Need, Use, and Abuse of Nonstandard Workers

Nonstandard workers — the technical term for gig workers — are those who don’t have a salaried job with standardized hours. This personnel base is present in most aspects of low-income work. The convergence of the pandemic with gig-based app platforms created a one-sided model where workers became commoditized, low-cost, and controllable thanks to software algorithms. But although this was a boon for buyers and consumers, the model is not advantageous for the workers. Many gig workers find themselves with unpredictable earnings, an inadequate safety net, and widespread anxiety and mental health pressures.

The concern with equity and the fact that people of color are disproportionately represented in the gig worker population have created a call for reform of the gig economy system. Women and persons of color are among some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, and they often provide support to other vulnerable people. Currently, the split in viewpoints comes down to corporate interests vs. worker and union interests. For example, this past March, a California court of appeals upheld most of California’s Proposition 22, a corporate-backed bill that pushed to have some nonstandard workers — like Uber drivers — remain classified as independent contractors instead of employees. The proposition was upheld in appeal, which means that while they do remain independent contractors, the workers are deprived of protections and benefits guaranteed to regular employees.

A New System

What’s needed is a new “hybrid” type system, one designed to recognize a new definition of gig work that combines the flexibility of app-based platforms with the benefits and protections traditionally connected only to standard or regular employment.

Policymakers are struggling with how to accomplish this, particularly given the integral role gig workers now have in our society. Especially among Baby Boomers and Gen X older adults, gig work is essential. We not only hire gig workers for everything from home repair to health care and use such platforms as Uber and DoorDash, but many of us also seek out gig work as a way to supplement retirement and social security income. 

How Can We Remain Silent?  What Does Fair and Equitable Look Like?

Several advocacy paths are available. A bipartisan group in the last Congress has introduced the Worker Flexibility and Choice Act that would allow certain service businesses to treat workers as independent contractors but allow the workers to have more control over their jobs and give them limited benefits. The bill, unfortunately, is stalled at the moment. Additionally, there are several state and local initiatives aimed at worker-centered solutions to gig work. Next week, I’ll delve into some of the innovative examples of local and state run programs that are reshaping the gig economy.

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work. Our Facebook Group is a resource center with tips and recommendations on navigating those issues. Share experiences with others who are looking for Housing Downsizing Tools that allow them to successfully age-in-place.

Leave a Comment