The gig economy (also called the peer-to-peer market or the peer economy, the sharing economy, collaborative economy, matching economy and talent marketplace) is the collection of markets that match providers to consumers on a gig (or job) basis in support of on-demand commerce.
In the basic model, gig workers enter into formal agreements with on-demand companies (e.g., Uber, TaskRabbit) to provide services to the company's clients. Prospective clients request services through an Internet-based technological platform or smartphone application that allows them to search for providers or to specify jobs. Providers (i.e., gig workers) engaged by the on-demand company provide the requested service and are compensated for the jobs.
With some exceptions, on-demand companies view providers as independent contractors (i.e., not employees) using the companies' platforms to obtain referrals and transact with clients. This designation is frequently made explicit in the formal agreement that establishes the terms of the provider-company relationship. In some ways, the gig economy can be viewed as an expansion of traditional freelance work (i.e., self-employed workers who generate income through a series of jobs and projects).
However, gig jobs may differ from traditional freelance jobs in a few ways. For example, coordination of jobs through an on-demand company reduces entry and operating costs for providers and allows workers' participation to be more transitory in gig markets (i.e., they have greater flexibility around work hours). The terms placed around providers' use of some tech-platforms may further set gig work apart. For example, some on-demand companies discourage providers from accepting work outside the platform from certain clients. This is a potentially important difference between gig work and traditional freelance work because it may limit the provider's ability to build a client base and operate outside the platform.
Characterizing the gig economy workforce (i.e., those providing services brokered through tech- based platforms) is challenging along several fronts. To date, no large-scale official data have been collected; and there remains considerable uncertainty about how to best measure this segment of the labor force. Existing large-scale labor force survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the U.S. Census Bureau may provide some insights, but are imperfect proxy measures of contemporary gig economy participants. A sparse literature examines data collected by individual companies operating in the gig economy or from pockets of gig-economy workers. As such, these analyses can be viewed as snapshots of the certain gig workers, but they are not necessarily representative of the full market.
The apparent availability of gig jobs and the flexibility they seem to provide workers are frequently touted features of the gig economy. However, to the extent that gig-economy workers are viewed as independent contractors, gig jobs differ from traditional employment in notable ways. First, whether a worker in the gig economy may be considered an employee rather than an independent contractor is significant for purposes of various federal labor and employment laws. In general, employees enjoy the protections and benefits provided by such laws, whereas independent contractors are not covered. Two laws, in particular, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act, have drawn recent attention.
In addition, certain other benefits (e.g., paid sick leave, health insurance, retirement benefits) that are often associated with traditional employment relationships may not be available in the same form to workers in the gig economy. Should Congress choose to consider ways of increasing access to such benefits for non-traditional employees, new mechanisms, such as portable benefits or risk-pooling, could serve to provide benefits to workers in the gig economy.