With Elon Musk and other futurists depicting a future of advanced AI and robotics where people have more and more available time, in reality, it will take decades to reach that point. If it ever even happens. In today’s world, so long as people need to earn money to survive and buy the things they need they will look for work to help pay for those bills. What is currently a fact however, it that the concept and the meaning of work has changed significantly over the years, and the new independent worker has contributed as much to those changes as new technologies have. While traditional 9-to-5 jobs still exist and unquestionably prevail over other types of jobs, numerous people have already taken up side jobs in the so-called gig economy.
Worker’s rights today: how we got here
On the first Monday of September, people fire up their grills, have a few friends over, and enjoy the end of summer and celebrate Labor Day. You may not know but this holiday originates in the labor movement that first shook the country at the end of the 19th century. Many people had been working 12 hours a day for seven days a week for low wages—even children were doing shifts in factories. In order to change this problem, workers organized and demanded shorter workdays and workweeks. People took to the streets of New York City in 1882 and railroad workers in Pullman went on strike in May 1894. The continued voice of the workers grew louder and put pressure on President Grover Cleveland until he signed a bill and made Labor Day a national holiday.
Today, Labor trade unions, although weakened by policies and legislation, still fight for workers’ rights. What’s more, the coworkers of some independent work companies (Uber, Lyft) have also started to unionize. What the future brings for them, it’s hard to tell. What’s certain is that today the once-revolutionary demands seem outdated and workers want something else than spending eight hours in a cubicle or workshop on a daily basis. Currently, research is indicating that the traditional 9-to-5 model is being overtaken by the gig economy as more people set out find more flexible work opportunities. That being said, the next chapter in the book on labor rights will surely focus on issues related to the new way of working.
How does the U.S. labor market look?
The unemployment rate was at a historic low with 3.7 percent at the end of 2018, which then increased by 0.2 points by January 2019. The U.S. hasn’t seen anything like this for 50 years. It was reported that there were more job openings in the majority of the states than people to fulfill them. Alaska and North Dakota were exceptions, though. Industries such as healthcare, construction and service (retail) generated most of the growth. Despite the rise in job employment, work shortages were detected in some sectors and industries. Nonetheless, those skilled workers in engineering, finance, sales, construction and manufacturing, information technology and trucking did not have such a difficult time to find employment in their fields. As of July 2019, the unemployment rate has decreased to 3.7 percent again. Statistics also show that 36 percent (one third) of U.S. workers, which approximately 57 million people, do side hustle jobs. Those workers don’t comprise a homogenous group, they are full-time workers (24%), part-time workers (49%), and some take on multiple jobs.
What to know about the gig economy in the U.S.
The gig economy continues to grow in the USA. Among gig workers who tend to be independent contractors, there are students, retired people, and anything in between. They do take their share of the profit produced by the sharing economy because they were laid off recently, are between jobs, would like to do more flexible work, or want to earn money by pursuing their hobbies.Considering the fact that Millennials (including the members of Generation Y and Z) are early adopters when it comes to apps and other technological products, they account for a large percentage of the gig economy’s current workforce. Despite the downside of the gig economy, it still creates them (especially for creative professionals) opportunity to launch their own business, hence becoming their own bosses while earning money using all their skills. Their initial pay might be considered low by many, but they could still make more than an unpaid intern, for example. They basically cut out the middleman aka organizations that would promise them relevant experience but not a decent wage or salary. (In reality, the children of affluent parents are far more likely to be able to afford to do unpaid internships that are necessary to get a paid job in their chosen industries later on.)
Regardless of age, anyone with some aspiration to change career or make their childhood dreams come true can try their luck in the gig economy. Many of the jobs available don’t necessarily require previous work experience, particular skills, or a degree.
Gig economy: is it the future of work?
According to some people, it definitely is. It’s also worthwhile mentioning that ca. 100 years ago, nobody would expect that people working in the agricultural sector would not even make up five percent of the workforce by 2017. Yet it happened. While the recent changes empower people to take more control of their life, the legal system still needs to catch up with the latest developments in the labor market to protect gig workers and their rights. As the number of people engaging in freelance work growing, the future may belong to them. Forbes has published an article about freelancers, and they reference a study that shows that 36 percent of U.S. Americans prefer being their own boss in spite of all the disadvantages of doing freelance work, such as the lack of retirement plans and insurance, etc. Gig workers in the USA have already challenged some platforms they work with, and some legislation has already passed, but it’s predicted that more laws and policies will be written to explicitly react to the changes partially caused by the emergence of app- and Internet-based jobs. We’ll keep you posted.
Want to be part of the change?
You may be new to side hustling but probably plenty of opportunities are available in your city.