One-Third Of Americans Engage In Independent Work — Is ‘The Gig Economy’ The Future?

For as long as most people can remember, a typical worker works for someone else, at a particular location, for 40 hours a week and sometimes more. This has been a social norm in the United States for many decades. While that type of work environment may offer stability and benefits such as health insurance, which are highly sought after, it doesn’t always fit well with the other things that people have to do in life — parent, attend college, care for a sick relative. Because of that, people have had to get creative with how they will bring home money to pay bills. Many people work “outside” gigs in which they offer a service or talent to others on their own terms, and others completely work independently, often called freelancing. In fact, a full 33 percent of Americans engage in this type of money-earning, which is a large proportion of the country’s population.

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One can easily see how there would be perks — no boss, no set hours, and the ability to work as much or little as necessary. But there are drawbacks too — sometimes what the independent worker is offering is not in steady demand, and working from home can be a challenge due to many distractions such as children, housework, and family members coming and going. Termed the “gig economy,” these workers often supplement a regular nine-to-five job, but for some, it’s their only job, and it is borne of necessity.

McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) published a report of the survey results today that centered on independent contracts or “gig economy,” and it found that many college students who are graduating today expect to participate in some way in this method of livelihood, according to Mental Floss.

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MGI is a nonpartisan group who is simply trying to keep up with the trends in global economy. They sent a survey to more than 8,000 people in the United States and in European countries, which asked questions about work habits, type of employment, and hours worked. The results showed that a staggering 162 million people in the U.S. and Europe did some type of independent work. The workers themselves are a diverse bunch, including artists, caterers, jewelry-makers, writers, and business consultants.

Amanda Pallais is a political economist at Harvard University and says she is surprised that the numbers of independent workers aren’t higher, as most people say they’d be willing to give up 8 percent of their pay in order to be able to work remotely. As an author of the study, she said the results suggest that companies should view employees as dedicated to their work but dedicated to other things in their lives as well, and offering an opportunity to work remotely may behoove many companies.

“Most workers want to work Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They don’t value flexible scheduling, and they really dislike working evenings and weekends. Still, there are plenty of folks who really like making their own hours. If that sounds like you, the MGI report makes a solid case for why this “gig” lifestyle might be something to consider.”

McKinsey’s website says that the new trend of “gig economy” is something that the workforce of the United States, as well as companies and economists, must consider as they strategize work hours and flexibility. The rising incidence of independent work could have exemplary economic benefits, such as raising labor-force participation, giving opportunities for the unemployed, or even boosting productivity, because people are doing what they want to do on their own time. However, there are drawbacks, such as lack of insurance and 401K plans, which may be troublesome as “gig workers” reach retirement age.

Are you a “gig worker”? Share your thoughts and experiences with this type of earning.

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