The hidden online ‘gig’ economy

March 7, 2019

If you’re a computer programmer, and you mainly support yourself by selling your freelance services via an online platform, do you get counted as part of the labour market?

Every month, statistical agencies survey their citizens about whether they have a job or are looking for one. Statistics Canada and the US Bureau of Labour Statistics release their monthly data tomorrow. But there are now a range of informal ways to earn money made possible by online platforms such as Fiverr, Taskrabbit, Uber, or Airbnb. Existing measures that ask about whether you hold a job don’t yet capture this type of digital ‘gig’ economy work.

Many aspects of our lives – including our work lives – have moved online. Statistical agencies and researchers are attempting to develop new measures to reflect this, but policymakers and businesses do not yet have reliable, ongoing measures of how significant the global online ‘gig’ economy is, whether people are doing it because they have no better alternatives or if they prefer it, and whether it is having positive or negative impacts on our lives.

To truly understand and be prepared for the future of work, we need to complement existing job measures with new, real-time indicators that capture these new digital work options. As a starting point to address this gap, RIWI developed a new online gig work indicator. In addition to asking people traditional employment questions, we asked them how they earned money, and specifically how much of their income comes from online work options such as selling products or services online, or using online apps to sell in-person services such as Uber or Airbnb.

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For RIWI’s latest Insight of the Week on the early adopters of online freelance work, see here.