The Ups and Downs of the Gig Economy, 2015–2017
The term “gig economy” refers to many forms of nonstandard work arrangements—typically nonpayroll-based and of short duration—including driving for Uber or Lyft as well as babysitting or house sitting and numerous other jobs. While work in the gig economy offers flexible hours and independence, such employment typically lacks the benefits that accompany payroll-based work such as subsidized health insurance, paid vacation, and employer-matched contributions to a 401(k) retirement account. Several economic studies using survey and/or administrative data have found that alternative work arrangements have increased in prevalence in recent decades or at least since the onset of the Great Recession. In contrast, a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2018) report finds no significant increase in the prevalence of alternative work arrangements between 2005 and 2017. In addition to the debate over long-term trends in alternative work arrangements, it is not yet clear how recent improvements in the formal labor market affected participation in the gig economy. Using the Survey of Informal Work Participation that is conducted each December as part of the Survey of Consumer Expectations, this paper assesses changes in informal work activity across 2015, 2016, and 2017 to investigate whether participation in the gig economy increased or decreased as the unemployment rate fell and other labor market indicators also improved. Fluctuations in the prevalence of informal “gig” work may hold implications for worker well-being, for the conduct of monetary policy, and for the measurement of employment.