The Gig Economy Is Here to Stay

A newly released study sponsored by Legal & General Group, U.S. Gig Economy, Part 1: The Gig Economy Is Here to Stay finds that with pandemic work shutdowns and a spiralling inflationary environment, the very nature of work in the U.S. and people’s relationship to it is evolving toward a more independent, flexible, and financially volatile model. More than a third of American workers consider themselves members of the gig economy, a proportion expected to rise. Today, the first volume of this broad new study introduces the research, zeroing in on the breadth, historical backdrop, and growing pains of this burgeoning work mode.

The first segment of the data-rich study, The Gig Economy Is Here to Stay, explores the effects of economic downturns on the specific demographic constituting the 36 percent of the U.S. population that make their living independently or on contract, unsalaried. The long-term consequences of this emerging model are still unfolding, but as of August/September 2022, most gig workers seemed satisfied working this way, with 69 percent saying they have no plans to return to the traditional workplace any time in the foreseeable future.

Legal & General Group Chief Executive Nigel Wilson commented: “While not limited to the U.S., the gig economy trend seems to be a particularly American phenomenon—both an outcropping of the independent spirit and also a reflection of the lack of social, health and financial guarantees available to the American population at large. By comparison, current data suggests that only 6.2 percent of the UK population counts itself as self-employed. Our research will explore what’s driving this difference and what’s lacking in the financial safety nets of U.S. gig workers.”

Study co-author and Legal & General Corporate Affairs Director John Godfrey notes: “To define the gig economy is a challenge—it comprises everything from best-selling authors to Uber drivers to fishermen. But with flexibility of work hours and freedom to earn as much or more than salaried workers listed as top reasons to stay in the gig economy, there was a clear desire on the part of survey respondents to balance work and life.”

Legal & General’s study looks not only at the benefits and primary reasons so many people are involved in the gig economy, but also at the drawbacks in social and financial security based on tenure and income, including lack of access to basic social needs. Some half-dozen future segments will look in depth at the massive income ranges and types of work encompassed by gig work; that gig work is a choice, and how this is expressed; the fierce independent-mindedness of gig workers; the extent to which gig workers meet their health and life insurance needs; similarly with their retirement needs; what it would take to get gig workers to go back to “the office”; and the pandemic fallout for gig workers.

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