"Gig economy" continues dramatic expansion

Jun 28, 2017

The typical nine-to-five shift is no longer the norm for millions of workers as the gig economy continues to dramatically expand.

Louis Hyman of Cornell University has studied the history of temp labor.

“When people talk about the gig economy they’re generally talking about freelancers and part- timers, and the emergence of work that doesn’t look like traditional jobs,” said Cornell University Professor Louis Hyman. “So, people who don’t have full-time permanent work. In the last 10 years, 94% of net new jobs have been in this category.”

The net new jobs term refers to newly-created jobs over the past decade.

The gig economy is being bolstered by everything from Uber and Lyft, to people who sell their own products from home – perhaps off a website such as Etsy.

The advantages of the gig economy are clear: a growing number of workers have more flexibility in setting work schedules. But the disadvantages are equally as obvious: many people who embrace the gig economy are not offered the same type of employer-sponsored benefits that full-timers typically receive, including health insurance.

Hyman believes the issue of benefits must be addressed as the gig economy becomes more prevalent with each passing year. Instead of fighting the rise of the gig economy, Hyman said, policies should be implemented to help it thrive.

“The question is not, ‘the gig economy or not the gig economy,’ just like the question isn’t, ‘the industrial economy or not the industrial economy,’” said Hyman. “The question is, how do we make this economy work for people better. Just like we made the industrial economy work much better for workers after World War II.”

Hyman added that it’s important to address the need for possible policy changes sooner rather than later.

“That 94% of net new jobs are in this space -- this sort of alternative work space -- that is something we need to reckon with. We need to understand that this is where our work is going and we don’t want to leave people just to the whims of the market.”

Hyman will discuss the gig economy from a historical perspective Wednesday June 28, 7 p.m. at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site, 641 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. The talk is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the Cornell University ILR School, the Partnership for the Public Good and the Cornell Club of Greater Buffalo.

Also participating in the discussion will be Nicole Hallett, assistant clinical professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law. Hallett is director of the Community Justice Clinic, which represents low-income local residents on issues that include immigration, employment and civil rights.