According to Fast Company's Maureen Harrington, although conversations around the gig economy have increased, it itself is nothing new, commenting, "What we now call gigs used to be referred to as part-time, freelance, or consulting." Harrington expands:
Gigs can be full- or part-time, or even one-off projects. There are gigs to be found at the highest professional levels and in the minimum wage “service on-demand” sector. The essential qualifier is that workers are not employees with benefits but independent contractors. More and more of us are participating in the gig economy, creating a robust market for the millions of work-for-hire individuals.
According to Quartz, the gig economy has not turned out to be what everyone expected:
Although gig work was initially seen as a way to maximize worker freedom and create opportunities, it has, in its short history, proven corrosive.
Some experts warn the gig economy is more likely to benefit those who already have a steady income, rather than those who are in need of a steady income. Getting a gig—regardless of what it is—tends to be easier if you already have a job or money to support yourself. Quartz's Ephrat Livni writes:
Sadly, those who most need to work can find themselves trapped in a cycle of struggle.
Workers take gigs as they come and can’t afford to be too picky, despite the supposed liberty of being your own boss in the sharing economy. Platform algorithms are designed to downgrade those who aren’t always available, making it ever-harder to pick up gigs. All this ends up putting workers in dangerous situations, working for strangers without any protections from their employers.
There's no question that the gig economy has many areas for improvement, but according to some experts, there's hope for the future. As with any economic change, it takes time for the world (and the law) to get caught up. Per Forbes' Richard Eisenberg, while local governments around the country work to get caught up, new apps are popping up to help gig workers with everything from healthcare to saving for taxes. One such app, Hyr, uses a point system streamline a number of processes for gig workers:
... Hyr’s U Points program lets its gig workers choose where to allocate their points — accruing them for paid time off, health or dental insurance or retirement savings.
The reality is the gig economy's evolution has left many people behind. Per Investor Place's Regina Borsellino:
Of people who use gig work as their primary source of income, 58% are considered financially fragile. That is, they would have difficulty handling an unexpected $400 expense or are using alternative financial services. 44% of those using gig work to supplement their income were financially fragile.
Borsellino concedes that it is hard to track gig workers (as many people define the job differently, some have full-time jobs as well as gigs, etc.). Nevertheless, a few industries have become the face of the gig economy in recent years, such as ride-share apps and delivery apps. According to Borsellino, a Ridester survey found Uber drivers in some cities have an average salary well below minimum wage:
In the Ridester’s worst-rated city — Akron, Ohio — drivers are only averaging $4.94 an hour before expenses.
On top of problematic wages, the gig economy also creates perilous conditions for workers' insurance, retirement and savings:
But some are in favor of the benefits the gig economy has to offer, such as greater flexibility, independence and variety in their workday. As the online Western Governors University tells prospective students:
Many freelance workers in the gig economy find that their status allows them great flexibility. From working the hours they desire, to working where they want, there are many options for gig economy workers.
Whether you're picking up different freelance assignments, meeting new people or clients, or simply changing up your work setting, some say the gig economy can be quite rewarding:
Gig economy workers may find they have a wide variety of jobs to complete. Instead of similar, monotonous tasks to be done each day, each project or gig may be filled with different elements that make the work interesting.