The Pitfalls and Potential of Gig Work for Americans

What does $1,800 a month mean to you?

That’s how much our average Samaschool trainee earns through the gig economy after completing a short course.

It doesn’t sound like much. But think about what an extra $1,800 might mean for someone who’s been chronically unemployed, or one of the 16% of Americans who lives under the federal poverty line, just $23,500 for a family of four.

Or someone who’s putting herself through community college.

Or trying to stay in his home as housing prices skyrocket around him.

This extra $1,800 is life-changing for marginalized Americans impacted by automation and other changes creating job loss around the country -- and it’s a source of supplemental income that’s accessible to nearly everyone. Earning money through the gig economy is a vital skill for today’s workers, yet our workforce training systems around the country aren’t prepared to teach it.

Who are these gig workers?

Meet Lavell Russel. Lavell, a charismatic entrepreneur from San Francisco’s Bayview/Hunter’s Point community, had predominantly worked a number of part-time jobs to make ends meet, but needed income and flexibility to launch his business. After Samaschool, he secured work through TaskRabbit, where he earns over $45 per hour on his own schedule as an assistant, mover, and marketer.

Lavell uses these funds to support his new business, while at the same time building a TaskRabbit client base with 98% positive reviews.

The gig economy is not a panacea that will eradicate poverty, income inequality, and unemployment. In fact, the rise of the gig economy has exposed some serious shortcomings of our existing labor laws and protections. To build a better workforce, we need better social safety nets, more portable benefits, and more comprehensive worker rights.

But most importantly, we need to recognize that gig work is here to stay, and we need to start planning for the future. An astounding 94% of job growth from 2005 to 2015 occurred in independent work. By some estimates, 50% of Americans will be engaging in freelance work by 2027. Think about that for a second -- HALF of Americans could be freelancers within the next decade.

We need to take independent work seriously and shape a more inclusive economy that supports all workers, not just those with a full-time job. This means better labor laws that don’t favor W2 employees, new approaches to workforce development that don’t tie funding to full-time job placements, and more innovative training that equips people with the skills they need to succeed across a wide range of work arrangements.

This is why today, our program Samaschool (part of the social enterprise I run, Samasource) is excited to announce The Future of Work is Independent, a series of white papers that provide policymakers and workforce specialists with a primer on the state of the independent workforce, the needs of independent workers, and the top policy priorities to prepare Americans for the future of work.

Download the papers for free HERE and be sure to follow Samaschool on Twitter and subscribe to our mailing list to stay up to date on future releases.