Gig economy may not be the future of work

In May 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics were 10.6 million independent contractors (6.9 percent of total employment), 2.6 million on-call workers (1.7 percent of total employment), 1.4 million temporary help agency workers (0.9 percent of total employment), and 933,000 workers provided by contract firms (0.6 percent of total employment).

The Labor Department said 10.1 percent of Americans in May 2017 were on alternative work arrangements — which includes independent contractors, on-call workers and people working for third-party contractors — down from the 10.7 percent in the last report in 2005. That decline resulted mainly from a drop in the share of people identifying as independent contractors, which fell to 6.9 percent from 7.4 percent in 2005.

There were previous forecasts that the gig economy would be the future of work. The Harvard Business Review still stated that approximately 150 million workers in North America and Western Europe work as independent contractors. Some of this growth reflects the emergence of ride-hailing and task-oriented service platforms. A McKinsey found that knowledge-intensive industries and creative occupations are the largest and fastest-growing segments of the freelance economy.

Americans age 55 and older constituted bigger shares of independent contractors in 2017 than in 2005. That suggests that the aging Baby Boomers are accepting such positions, whether it be to supplement incomes or because they may be easier to take than traditional jobs. The labor-force participation rate among people 65 and older stood at 19.8 percent last month, compared with 15.2 percent in May 2005.