If 2021 proved anything, it’s that the gig economy is alive and well.
From ride-sharing to food delivery to at-home businesses and freelance gigs, Americans got creative in how they earned their income over the last year. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 16% of Americans have earned income from an online gig platform at some point.
Looking ahead, the gig economy will likely continue to grow in 2022 and employers will continue to look for more ways to collaborate with gig workers.
So what are some of the ongoing gig economy trends to look out for in the coming year? Here’s what we’ll be watching.
4 Things Gig Workers Should Look For in 2022
1. Side Gigs Are Becoming Permanent (For Now)
Side gig jobs are becoming more like main gigs for many Americans. Forty-one percent of gig workers relied on their gig jobs to cover monthly expenses in 2021. That’s up from 27% in 2020, according to Dollar Sprout’s 2021 Side Hustle Report.
The percentage of people spending more than 15 hours per week on gig work more than doubled in 2021, increasing from 12% to 27%. The share of gig workers who earned more than $1,500 per month increased from around 4% in 2020 to more than 14% in 2021.
All that to say that, for a lot of gig economy workers, gig work is no longer a temporary hobby. The pandemic gave American workers a lot of time to reflect, and many are no longer content working in uninspired traditional jobs in uninspiring office settings.
The freedom to set their own hours, be their own boss, have more work/life balance, and feeling more fulfilled in what they do has certainly driven the uptick in gig work, as well as contributed to what’s known as The Great Resignation.
That said, even though workers are making more money and spending more time than ever on side gig work, many still don’t view the side hustle as a great long-term option. In the Pew Research survey, only 31% believed these jobs are a good way to build a career. In fact, 68% said the gig job is not a good career building option.
2. The Employee Vs. Independent Contractor Debate Continues
In late 2020, a measure known as Proposition 22 was passed by California voters. The debate centered on whether ride-share drivers could be considered employees or independent contractors while working for companies like Uber or Lyft.
If gig workers were classified as employees, rideshare companies would take on the financial burden of employer-sponsored health insurance, workers compensation for on-the-job injuries, contributions into Social Security and Unemployment Insurance, and would have to offer sick or caregiver leave. If gig workers remain classified as independent contractors — as the vast majority are — companies would not have to provide those benefits.
Prop 22 was largely seen as a compromise between the two sides. Rideshare companies in California are still exempt from labor laws and can keep their drivers classified as independent contractors. However, drivers are receiving new benefits which include an earnings guarantee based on local minimum wage laws, a health care subsidy for drivers who log more than 25 hours per week, and occupational accident insurance.
But while the debate in California is settled for now, it rages on in other states. And much to the dismay of rideshare companies, the federal government has entered the chat.
In late December, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced it will reconsider its 2019 employment classification decision and asked for a public briefing on the issue from unions, employers, and any other interested parties, who have until February 10, 2022 to offer input.
Needless to say, 2022 could see major changes for gig economy workers and employers in the rideshare industry.
3. Some Gig Workers Are Facing Safety Issues
In April of 2020, NPR interviewed Candy Roberts, an Instacart shopper. She described some of the frightening aspects of having to grocery shop during the outset of the pandemic.
In addition to simply being a frequent visitor to the public stores at a time when no vaccine was available, Roberts talked about some of the craziness she encountered. “People steal stuff out of your cart. You know, you might’ve grabbed the last milk. Well, don’t look away from your cart because somebody’s going to take it out of your cart,” she told NPR.
At the time, Instacart hadn’t supplied Roberts with any hand sanitizer or other items to provide protection from Covid. She used Listerine to clean her hands. For Roberts, the sole provider for her grandson, the early part of 2020 was an incredibly stressful time.
Though the conditions have changed since then, safety issues continue to be a part of the deal in the gig workforce. More than half (51%) of the American gig workers surveyed by Pew reported being very or somewhat concerned about getting Covid while completing their jobs over the past year.
Safety issues went beyond Covid, however. Thirty-seven percent said they had often or sometimes been treated rudely while doing gig work, and 35% said they had felt unsafe.
Most unsettling of all the statistics: 19% said they had experienced an unwanted sexual advance on the job. Nearly a quarter of female respondents said they had this type of advance before.
4. Gig Work Isn’t Confined to One Generation
The gig economy is open to all generations, and all generations are taking advantage of it.
“In the midst of a historic labor shortage, we’re seeing a steady increase in eager workers seeking flexible opportunities to increase their earning potential. Across all generations from Baby Boomers to Gen Z, the data shows us workers are re-evaluating what they want from work,” said Monica Plaza, with online staffing company Wonolo, in a press release. “The implications for businesses are clear and present: workers want flexible work that pays a living wage.”
According to Wonolo, Baby Boomers (ages 57-75) and Generation X (41-56) are spending the most time as gig economy workers on the Wonolo platform, with Gen Xers making the most money per month.
Don’t count Generation Z (18-25) or Millennials (25-40) out though. In the study, Gen Z saw the largest increase (11%) in hourly earnings out of all the generations between 2019 and 2021.
In 2019, Gen Z comprised only 8% of the total jobs completed on Wonolo. That number jumped to 22% this past year and is expected to continue to grow as more Gen Zers enter the labor force.
Gig work obviously appeals to all generations, with its flexibility and ability to make a side income. In 2022, it will be interesting to see how much more involved Generation Z becomes and whether Boomers continue to take on gig work as they approach retirement.
Robert Bruce is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.