Let's Talk About the Gig Economy

The gig economy. Even if you don’t know exactly what it is, you’ve probably heard of it on some level. Ever read an article on a major website by a freelance writer? Gig economy. Seen an influencer post as a brand ambassador on instagram? Gig economy. Used a stock photo posted on a public site? You guessed it - gig economy.

The gig economy is generally defined as anyone working as an individual (not under a larger company) on a pay-for-work basis, as opposed to having a set salary. They work without contract, instead doing individual jobs for hourly rates or set amounts. Few people work as full time “giggers”, with the majority freelancing as a supplement to a full time job. The rise of apps like Uber, Postmates, and Taskrabbit have encouraged more people to take on extra gigs as a solution to make ends meet. According to a Time article, 44% of US adults have been involved in the gig economy on some level, either as a worker, employer, lender, host, or driver. 

On the surface, the gig economy seems like a great solution for everyone involved! Creatives can be involved in work outside of boring day jobs, drivers can take extra hours to supplement their pay, and everyday people can easily find extra help for one-off tasks. But the gig economy has problems lurking in the background...not everything is as perfect as it seems. Here are the key things you need to know about the growing gig economy. 

Freelance work offers significantly more flexibility and freedom for giggers.

As a busy college student (we all know the struggle), stay at home parent, or even a 9 to 5 worker, our time is packed. When you’re rushing to finish a major assignment or clean up a crazy apartment it can feel like every second counts. If you’re needing a way to add supplemental income, gigging is a great way to work on your own terms, in your spare time. The hours are usually much more flexible and adjustable than most “normal” work, meaning it can be a huge help for busy people without sacrificing too much precious personal time. 

 

But, there’s also a lack of job security and planning for the future. 

Unlike regular jobs when you’re employed by a company, working in the gig economy doesn’t guarantee income or benefits. You might have a killer week writing articles for a paper one week, but totally flop the next and be fresh out of luck. The lack of income security can be really stressful, and definitely needs to be taken into account for those considering gigging. Don’t forget that the gig economy also means no employee benefits: no healthcare, 401k’s, or paid time off -- all things that would typically be given by corporate employers. 

 

The gig economy’s growth has skyrocketed because of new technology. 

Total techie? The gig economy might be a great place for you to take advantage of your skills online. The gig economy has always existed on some level, but the recent explosion is thanks to apps like Postmates, TaskRabbit, Uber, Fiverr, Upwork, Lyft, AirBnB -- the list goes on and on! If you’re someone who prefers to facilitate things online, working through this popular apps can be a big draw. More importantly? People with mobility issues, mental health struggles, or other things that make it difficult to function in a typical workplace can be given easy access to job opportunities from within their own homes. 

 

It’s easy to be taken advantage of because of its competitive nature. 

Outsourcing online isn’t always a good thing. Imagine you’re an employer looking for someone to edit a quick video for you. You post an ad to a freelance board, and you suddenly have an influx of creatives offering up their skills -- how do you choose who to go with? Maaaybe you ask them all for a sample of their work and references, but most likely, you just go with the cheapest offer. This makes the job offer turn into a competition for the giggers to see who will offer up their skills at the cheapest rate, leading people’s work to be devalued and taken advantage of. This is complicated by the international nature of freelance platforms, as the lowest rates are often given by disadvantaged workers in countries with burgeoning economies. There’s often no supervision on these sites, meaning the people be taken the most advantage of are marginalized workers from outside the source countries. Big uh-oh. 

 

It opens up creative “passion” work to more people. 

On a more positive side, the internet gig economy means it’s accessible to everyone, regardless of background or skill level. This means that an artist without formal education and very expensive training has the same opportunities as a privileged, degree-holding artist (although, this does bring up questions about the merit of degrees in this burdening economy). More people are able to follow and make a living off of their creative passions, hopefully improving their overall happiness and quality of life. Even if you have a full time day job, you’re still able to embrace the creative side of yourself. 

 

There’s no absolutes when it comes to the gig economy. Working in this new developing field has its benefits and drawbacks, and what’s right for one person may not be right for another. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide what you think about the gig economy, and whether the future of freelancing has a place in your future.