By a fair amount, according to Lawrence Mishel of Economic Policy Institute. The analysis is well-summarized in Lydia Dishman’s Fast Company piece: Is the Freelance Economy Not Growing As Much As We Thought? Mishel’s more detailed report is at EPI’s site, and it adds some needed perspective to a 2014 study conducted by Freelancers Union/Upwork (FU/U).
That research said that there were 53 million freelancers in the US, making up 34% of the workforce. That’s a lot of packed coffeehouses.
You can review the definitional problems and the rest of Mishel’s analysis in his detailed report or more quickly in Dishman’s article, but the net is: “Only 12.3% of workers primarily rely on freelancing to support themselves”. Stop building more coffeehouses.
The Gig Economy (please don’t call it the “Sharing Economy” – it’s no more “sharing” than when kids claimed they were “sharing” MP3s) is the hot topic in discussions of the workforce. The O’Reilly Next:Economy conference we recently attended devoted much of its agenda to gig workers. It’s raising important questions about worker classification, portable benefits, and worker rights.
But it’s not (yet) taking over the workforce. We’re not all going to have agents and almost none of us aren’t going to hire ourselves out to the highest bidder. Most people are still going to have jobs, not gigs, and almost everyone will have to take the wage that’s offered.
One danger of hyping the gig economy is that it lets us think it’s going to solve all our labor problems; it won’t. It’s going to make things more complex. Hollywood has had a gig economy for decades, and no one thinks it’s a model of efficiency. Its coffeehouses are full of agents and lawyers, resulting in Coasian transaction costs that only the movie business would tolerate.
The hype also a distraction, as Mishel points out. After listing a host of labor issues (mis-classification, multi-level subcontracting, getting properly paid, portable benefits) he concludes with “There needs to be attention to all of these issues and to the larger question of how to generate robust wage growth. Hype about freelancing and gig work limits our focus and perhaps distracts from these broader issues.”