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Obits for Gig Economy Are Premature

(p. A21) Data confirm the "gig economy" is taking off--or do they? A 2017 Upwork study found that 36% of the labor force engaged in some form of contract or freelance work in 2017. In 2015 the Mercatus Center counted 1099-MISC and W-2 tax forms, which report contractor and employee income, respectively. The number of W-2s declined 3.5% between 2000 and 2014, while the 1099-MISC count grew 22% (albeit from a much smaller base).

But then the Bureau of Labor Statistics weighed in. Its Contingent and Alternative Employment Arrangements survey, released last week, caused a flurry of clickbait headlines like "Everything we thought we knew about the gig economy is wrong" and "Gig economy jobs aren't really taking over America's workforce."

. . .

A notable study by economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger used the same questions as the BLS survey, but worked with a different sample population (the RAND American Life Panel) and used an internet survey. It found that alternative employment arrangements as a worker's primary form of employment grew more than 50% between 2005 to 2015, when they collected their data.

It would at least be hasty to conclude that alternative employment arrangements declined between 2005 to 2017. And more important, the BLS data are not an accurate description or measure of gig-economy work, since they exclude most workers engaged in this type of work through supplementary income.

For the full commentary, see:

Liya Palagashvili. "Don't Be So Sure the Gig Is Up; Contract work has fallen as a share of employment, a BLS study finds. But there are reasons to doubt it.." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 13, 2018): A21.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 12, 2018.)

They study by Katz and Krueger, mentioned above, is:

Katz, Lawrence F., and Alan B. Krueger. "The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015." National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, NBER Working Papers: 22667, 2016.

Also relevant is their:

Katz, Lawrence F., and Alan B. Krueger. "The Role of Unemployment in the Rise in Alternative Work Arrangements." American Economic Review 107, no. 5 (May 2017): 388-92.

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