Given that almost half of US workers will be employed in gig work in some capacity by 2020, now might be a good time to bust some of the myths surrounding the gig economy. Jason McDowell, well-versed in the art of freelancing himself, walks us through five pernicious misunderstandings that still get touted as fact.
Myth No. 1: Gig Workers Can’t Find Real Jobs
The truth is most gig workers don’t want “real” jobs. Given the level of freedom and work/life balance steady gig work can provide, the gig economy appeals to many who are tired of the 40-hour-a-week corporate grind. That probably has something to do with why the number of flexible workers in the US grew by 66 percent between 2005 and 2015, according to a report from Adecco and LinkedIn.
That’s not to say that some freelancers don’t struggle to find full-time work. Forty-seven percent of respondents to the Adecco/LinkedIn research said they wanted to use gig work as a stepping stone to a full-time position. At the same time, 54 percent said they actively chose self-employment as a way to meet their needs and ambitions, and 29 percent viewed it as an enabler of a flexible lifestyle.
Myth No. 2: Gig Workers Can’t Make Real Money
As with any job, there is a range of pay for gig work. The gig economy probably represents the largest pay range of all market segments, as gig workers command rates based on a variety of factors like experience, geographic location, and industry. However, $1.4 trillion in freelance activity was added to the U.S. economy in 2016, according to the Adecco/LinkedIn report, so obviously there’s money to be made.
In the United States, 20 percent of contingent workers make more than $100,000/year, according to a 2017 study by MBO partners. Those willing and able to invest the time and effort necessary to succeed in the gig economy can do very well in today’s work environment.
Myth No. 3: Gig Workers Cause Companies to Eliminate Full-Time Positions
Freelancers and contractors often get hired to provide very specific services. A blog post, a website design, or a budget audit might not require a full-time employee, and hiring one would be a waste of resources. Using a gig worker is often the cheaper choice for a company, rather than onboarding someone for whom there isn’t enough work.
The number of workers who operate in the gig economy out of desperation is commensurate with the unemployment rate. As unemployment drops, gig workers who claim they only do the work because they can’t find a job adjust accordingly, the Adecco/LinkedIn report found. This suggests that companies aren’t eliminating full-time positions to use cheaper gig workers, but instead are using freelancers and contractors to supplement existing full-time workers.
Myth No. 4: Gig Work Is for Young People
It’s true that gig work is an attractive option for young people. Eighty-nine percent of 18-to-26-year-olds surveyed for the Adecco/LinkedIn report said they saw gig work as a long-term career path. Additionally, 82 percent said they aspired to be flexible workers in the future.
But flexible work is not only for millennials and Gen. Z. “The Future of Gig Work is Female,” a 2017 study by Hyperwallet, showed that 12 percent of the 2,000 survey respondents were aged 51-70. Another 2017 study from Hearts and Wallets showed that among employed seniors 65 and older, 81 percent had partners or spouses employed in gig work. Twelve percent of baby boomer respondents to the Adecco/LinkedIn survey said they considered gig work a way to maintain flexibility in their lives. A separate LinkedIn study of contract workers on its platform found that 91 percent were in their middle or late careers. Gig work isn’t just a young person’s game.
Myth No. 5: Gig Workers Lack Experience/Education
It is commonly believed that gig workers lack experience and can only maintain narrow sets of skills. In fact, the opposite is true. Gig workers gain work experience at a variety of companies. As a result, they can take the best practices with them while leaving the worst behind as they move on to future gigs.
As far as education, full-time gig workers tend to be more highly educated than full-time traditional workers in the same fields, according to the Adecco/LinkedIn report. The study found that 73 percent of contractors reported holding higher education degrees, as opposed to 45 percent of traditional workers from a comparative group.