A gig worker, in simple terms, is someone who doesn't have a long-term job with a single employer. Instead, they take on various short-term jobs, or gigs, that can range from driving for a ride-sharing service to offering freelance writing services. This concept of gig work isn't new, but in recent years, it has gained tremendous popularity and evolved into what we now call the gig economy.
Historically, gig work was often referred to as temporary or part-time employment, such as musicians playing gigs at different venues. However, today's gig economy is broader and more diverse, encompassing a wide array of industries and roles. It's a work landscape where people have the freedom to choose when and where they work, in essence, becoming their own bosses.
The growth of the gig economy is remarkable, with millions of people worldwide doing gig work. In the United States, for instance, approximately 36% of the workforce engages in gig work, according to a McKinsey and Company study. This trend is not confined to a single country; it's a global phenomenon. Also, according to estimates by NITI Aayog, the gig economy employed 7.7 million workers in 2020-21, with a projected workforce of 23.5 million by 2029-30. The industry is expected to produce a revenue of $455 billion by 2024.
There are multiple reasons why people opt for gig work. Many appreciate the flexibility it offers. They can set their own schedules and balance work with other aspects of life. Some people turn to gig work to supplement their income, while others pursue it to follow their passions and utilize their unique skills.
However, gig work comes with its set of challenges. One significant challenge is navigating taxes. Unlike traditional employees who have their taxes withheld by their employers, gig workers often need to manage their own tax responsibilities, which can be perplexing. Also, they typically don't have access to employee benefits like health insurance or retirement plans.
In essence, gig workers represent the modern workforce's adaptability and independence. They form a substantial portion of today's labor market, reshaping how we perceive work and employment. As the gig economy continues to expand, its impact on workers’ lives and the broader economy remains a topic of great interest and discussion.
Characteristics of Gig Workers
Gig workers, those who do gig jobs, have some common features that set them apart from traditional employees. Let's take a closer look at these characteristics:
- Flexibility. Gig workers enjoy the flexibility to choose when and where they work. They're not tied to a fixed schedule or location, which allows them to adapt their work to their lifestyle.
- Independence. Unlike traditional employees, gig workers are their own bosses. They decide which gigs to take and how to do them. This independence is a big draw for many gig workers.
- Short-term commitment. Gig work is typically short-term or project-based. Workers aren't signing up for long-term contracts with one employer. They finish one gig and move on to the next.
- Diverse skills. Gig workers come from various backgrounds and possess a wide range of skills. Some might be professional drivers, while others are skilled writers or designers.
- Income diversity. Gig workers' income can vary from month to month. It's not a fixed paycheck, which traditional employment offers. Some months may be more lucrative than others.
The Future of Gig Work
The future of gig work is uncertain, but several trends are likely to shape the industry in the coming years. One trend is the increasing use of automation and artificial intelligence in the gig economy. This could lead to a decrease in the number of human workers needed for certain tasks like data entry, basic customer service, or even some aspects of delivery. Still, it could also create new opportunities for gig workers with specialized skills. For example, people who can design, maintain, or troubleshoot AI systems will be in high demand.
Another trend is the growing importance of worker protections and benefits for gig workers. As the gig economy continues to grow, there is increasing pressure on companies to provide benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans. According to the International Labor Organization, this could lead to a shift in the way that gig work is structured, with more companies offering full-time positions with benefits rather than relying solely on gig workers.
Also, the gig economy is likely to continue to expand into new industries and sectors. As technology continues to advance, there will be new opportunities for gig workers to provide services in areas such as healthcare, education, and finance, according to HR Forecast. The gig economy will also most definitely see a big increase in gross volume and market size, as per Business Research Insight.
Finally, according to Entrepreneur, the gig economy is likely to face increased regulation in the coming years. Governments around the world are grappling with how to regulate the gig economy, and there is likely to be increased scrutiny of companies that rely on gig workers.
- What is the gig economy, and who are its workers? Maryville Online. (2023, April 11). https://online.maryville.edu/blog/what-is-the-gig-economy/
- McKinsey & Company. (2022, August 23). Freelance, side hustles, and gigs: Many more Americans have become independent workers. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/sustainable-inclusive-growth/future-of-america/freelance-side-hustles-and-gigs-many-more-americans-have-become-independent-workers
- Reynolds, J., & Kincaid, R. (2023, February). Gig work and the pandemic: Looking for good pay from bad jobs during the COVID-19 crisis. Work and Occupations. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9520279/
- Salter, L., & Dutta, M. J. (n.d.). (PDF) experiences with COVID-19 among Gig Workers - Researchgate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/359367399_Experiences_with_COVID-19_Among_Gig_Workers
- Ozbilgin, M. F., & Gundogdu, N. (2023, September 10). (PDF) artificial intelligence, gig economy and precarity - ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/373640293_Artificial_Intelligence_Gig_Economy_and_Precarity