Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How big is the gig labor market?

The internet has enabled online transactions for real time services between service customers and providers.  You can reserve an overnight stay in someone's home or apartment.  You can get a ride to work in someone's car.  You can get a voiceover narration performed by someone in the Czech Republic.

The gig economy provides new options for workers to make money when they want and how they want while providing customers with more choice.   But it also undercuts existing business models.  Licensed cab owners are less than fond of Uber; hotels are hardly enamored with Airbnb.  Also because Uber drivers are independent contractors, there is no guarantee of a minimum hourly wage and they are unable to organize into unions (as if unions could organize any private sector workers anyway).

With all the headlines, my colleagues Larry Katz at Harvard and Alan Krueger at Princeton set out to measure the size of the gig labor market.  The results, as reported in WSJ: a mere 0.5% of workers were engaged in a typical week.  Uber accounts for two-thirds of this modest number.

Wave of the future?  We would do well to suspend judgment.

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