The latest measure of the gig economy in the US comes from Intuit, the business and financial software company that owns TurboTax. On an earnings call on Wednesday, Intuit CEO Brad Smith told investors that by his company’s estimates, gig workers now make up 34 percent of the American workforce, a number expected to rise to 43 percent by 2020, CNN Money reports:
Smith was referring to freelancers of all stripes — those on online platforms like Uber and Lyft and also more traditional freelancers like plumbers and electricians. He cited an ongoing research project between Intuit and Emergent Research. It’s the latest sign of the sprawling size of the US freelance economy — a sector the US Labor Department has self-admittedly struggled to quantify. New government data on freelancers won’t be out until 2018.
Specifically driven by the newer online platforms, there are about 4 million quintessential gig workers, research from Intuit and Emergent show. They expect that to grow to 7.7 million workers by 2020. However, it’s hard to get an official government count to know how many work full time as gig workers or just part-time, or whether they have traditional 9 am to 5 pm jobs and do gig work on the side.
Intuit’s estimate is only the latest in an ongoing series of measurements of the gig economy suggesting that it is large, growing, and increasingly central to the way people work in the US. A Pew report last November found that 24 percent of Americans earned money in the previous year in what it referred to as the “platform economy” (including labor platforms like Uber, capital platforms like Airbnb, and sales platforms like Etsy). In December, economists Alan Krueger and Lawrence Katz, who have been studying the gig economy intensively, revealed that 94 percent of net job growth in the past decade was in non-traditional employment, with 60 percent due to the the rise of independent contractors and freelancers; the Economic Policy Institute similarly warned that part-time and temporary jobs were fast becoming the “new normal” for the American workforce.
The challenges posed by the advent of the gig economy are also becoming a major concern in Europe, where the European Commission has expressed concern about its impact on job security, and in the UK, where it has become an issue in the upcoming elections and a recent government report warned that it was exploiting workers and putting an unsustainable burden on the welfare state.