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"I've also limited attention to full-time workers"

You do realize that a gig economy has to do with precarious PART TIME work, right? So whatever your data indicates, it is unlikely to have much to do with reality for the workers actually employed in the gig economy.


The "Gig" economy isn't limited to part time workers. It would pick up people working full-time on short-term contracts (I.e.., moving from gig to gig). If the phenomenon is material it should show up in full time employment stats.

The bigger problem is likely to be the exclusion of the self-employed - since they are likely to be employed in the gig economy as independent contractors. They are almost the definition of the "gig economy" worker.

That's sort of why I added the qualifier "with job tenure data". To extent that gig=short-term employment contract, these data should pick that up. But I don't see how you could extract information about a gig economy from self-employment data.

This is a good point about the identification problems of reduced labor market dynamism versus gig economy type jobs.

But I wouldn't look at tenure. Kinda the point of the gig economy is that you can't get fired if you are an independent contractor, so why would you look at tenure to begin with? The fears of the gig economy are about insecurity of *income*. The Uber driver has a guaranteed job, but not guaranteed income.

Unfortunately I'm not sure how you would measure it. Aggregate income is going to be more stable than individual income. That's the point -- a firm can hire many people and pay them each a stable, lower, income than what they would each make as independent contractors, and it makes sense for the firm to do that because in a fair bargaining situation it would need to compensate the contractor for the lack of a guaranteed income.

But when people are really desperate, they will take the lack of guaranteed income over no income, so when firms have a lot of bargaining power, they are able to hire independent contractors without paying them a premium, in which case it is a no brainer to push the income risk onto the employee if you can.

I don't think there are many labor markets where firms have this much power, but it is widely believed to be happening more now at the bottom of the income distribution. IMO, this is what people mean when they say stable jobs are disappearing, and it has nothing to do with tenure.

Also "self-employed" or "consultant" are also often just euphemisms for "not employed" (a different concept from "unemployed", but there is overlap).

I agree with others that gig work is strongly correlated with not being "properly" employed.

Stephen: With much employment being "at will", more reliance on contingent workers (whether hired direct as "independents" or through a staffing agency), companies not investing much in their workers, and the main method to get career advancement/development and pay raises being leaving for another company, the meaning of "gig" has been broadened to refer to jobs in general.

At the same time, all this is more narrative than reality - e.g. many more people "know" that you have to switch jobs than are actually doing it.

I have some anecdotal evidence with people who grew up in this low-certainty, stagnating job environment, who generally consider their current/next job as a stepping stone to the "real thing" that will eventually come around - either a "good job" or successful self-employment.

It goes both ways - companies use their workers, workers use the companies. With the absence of pensions and unions, nobody has an incentive to maintain long term relationships, other than for a lack of better options.

I think there are two discussions, which overlap, but aren't quite the same. One is the "gig" economy discussion, the other is the "decline of a job for life with a single employer" discussion. This gets at the second discussion - and isn't terribly surprising in that context.

Bob: That's because it is first of all not clear what "gig" really means. One etymology source says the word emerged in the early 1900's in the bar/club/event musician scene. (This is the main context in which I heard the term when I was young - no that wasn't all the way back then.)

So "gig" means an engagement to perform services that is from the outset know to all parties to be short term, or even a single event.

The BLS seems to define "job" as an ongoing and recurring arrangement. (Which may also be short term, with a recurrence of every day, ever few days, etc.) By this definition, a job extends over a period, however short. But there is an overlap with "gig" - e.g. an engagement to perform at an event that goes on for a whole week.

So let's say if a limo driver or limo service is contracted to drive somebody on a specific day every week, for the duration of 1 or 2 months. Is that a gig, or a job, or a sequence of gigs?

When somebody is hired by a company for a period (or "permanent" which just means there is no set end date), that's definitely a job, but people may perceive it as a gig, i.e. "I'm serving here for the time being", but it's either not really what they want to do, or they know they will not retire from there.

The Pew research is problematic in that the "gig economy" trends are longer than the timescale they're talking about, and you probably want to look at the larger picture where employer tenure has dropped sharply from mid-century highs. There is also an extremely stark divide in tenure between gender and skill levels, where non-college educated males have seen steep declines in employer tenure after a peak in the early 1980s. This has been offset almost completely by an increase in employer tenure among female workers (with and without college degrees). This has the effect of masking a decline amongst a particular demographic in much the same way the overall labor force participation rate, masks a precipitous fall in male labor force participation over the same period.

This being said with the caveat that often the "gig economy" argument is often an updated stand-in for low-skill prime age male problems with attachment to the labor force overall.

Also of note, some accompanying US dataset research on employer tenure:


Long story short, men come out worse for the wear, women more than make up the difference.

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