Changing Patterns in Informal Work Participation in the United States 2013–2015 Changing Patterns in Informal Work Participation in the United States 2013–2015

By Anat Bracha, Mary A. Burke, and Arman Khachiyan

In light of the weak labor market conditions in the United States from 2008 until recently, one might have expected that participation in alternative income-generating activities, such as informal side-jobs, would have increased during that period. By the same logic, participation in informal work should have declined more recently, as conditions in the formal labor market improved. However, recent technological innovations have created a number of new opportunities for engaging in informal work. Such innovations may have promoted structural increases in informal work participation; if so we would expect informal work participation to remain elevated or increase further even as the economy improves.

To test these predictions the authors designed the Survey of Informal Work Participation, fielded within the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Survey of Consumer Expectations. The survey was fielded in December 2013 and again in January 2015, on two separate, nationally representative samples. The first survey was designed mainly to assess the extent and intensity of participation in paid informal work activities and its determinants, the types of activities engaged in, and the extent to which such activities helped individuals to compensate for negative economic shocks during and after the recession. The second survey was designed to follow up on the main outcomes of the first and to determine whether the motivations for engaging in informal work and/or the types of people drawn to such work, had changed as the labor market improved

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