What Happens After the Gig Economy?


People you may have seen recently on TV, in a theater, or at a pitch competition are driving for hire in Los Angeles.

The gig economy is replacing the jobs creatives take to supplement income while they follow their dreams. It’s a trend: Driving for Uber or Lyft has become the new waiting tables.

The Uberization of everything is an experiment testing the idea that contractors, along with smartphones, data, and tech, are better for business than full-time employees. What’s in question is whether it’s better for workers.

In the past, employees were also more likely to have union representation. That could have come in handy when rates per mile went down more than 60 percent in Los Angeles amid an Uber/Lyft price war. Federal law was extended recently to let more employees unionize, and freelancers have been given the right to organize in Seattle. Their growing numbers may become important politically.

A recent TIME poll says more than 40 percent of Americans have played part in this new economy although experts disagree. Experts do agree that The Great Recession created this situation. Contingent work typically increases during recessions. We are, at this time, somewhere between the recession that gave rise to the gig economy and the rise of robots that could take them away.

Occasionally there’s a high-profile case of a company turning its contractors into true W-2 employees (paywall). But Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is on record saying he plans to ditch his company’s 100,000-plus drivers for autonomous vehicles once those become feasible. What future does that promise for a creative on the way up? Dream-chasing creatives always create new jobs. But if disruption turns all-encompassing, we could need something as dramatic as a new New Deal to pull us all through.

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