The overwhelming majority of Americans have no idea what the gig economy is despite its rapidly growing use and popularity, according to a survey released Tuesday.
The gig economy involves freelance work typically facilitated by an internet platform or app. Its increased use in recent years has started to shape the overall economy. The American Staffing Association (ASA), however, found in a new poll that 75 percent of Americans have never even heard of the term “gig economy.”
The ASA poll also found 29 percent of people don’t know how to define the term while 31 percent of people cannot identify specific types of gig work. The majority of people polled, at 85 percent, believe they have worked in the gig economy when not provided a definition. The results drop to 20 percent when the term was defined.
“The ASA Workforce Monitor findings demonstrate that many Americans are puzzled by the term, ‘gig economy,’” ASA President Richard Wahlquist said in a statement. “Despite this confusion, and even if it is just a new term for an old approach to work, the majority of Americans don’t believe that gig work will be a dominating force in the economy in the coming years.”
The ASA poll found 78 percent of people surveyed see the gig economy as just a new way to describe nontraditional work arrangements. More than half, at 53 percent, believe the country will not become a predominantly gig economy within the next 20 years.
The overall economy has always had temporary and freelance work. The gig economy is unique in that emerging technologies have facilitated new platforms that connect people to temporary and contract work. Supporters have argued it gives workers more flexibility, while critics contest it undermines worker rights.
The gig economy can also be understood as any digital platform that allows individuals to build their own business ventures. Uber drivers typically aren’t employees but rather independent contractors that utilize the app to connect with potential clients.
The gig economy has seen increased use but the actual numbers are unclear. Studies and surveys have frequently arrived at different results when looking into how much it has grown. The McKinsey Global Institute found in a survey last year that 20 to 30 percent of working-age adults in Europe and the United States engaged in some form of independent work.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) may soon provide a clearer answer. The agency plans to review the gig economy in an upcoming report looking at independent work. The report hasn’t been updated since 2005 due to budget restraints.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a rough estimate of temporary workers in 2015 for a congressional hearing. It found all temporary workers make up anywhere from five percent to one-third of the national workforce. The findings drew from several government sources.
The gig economy has also faced resistance from some lawmakers on the left. Seattle passed a law that treats Uber drivers more like employees in relation to workplace and union rights. The Freedom Foundation and National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation have challenged the law in court.
The ASA is the trade association which represents employers within the staffing industry. It partnered with Harris Insights & Analytics to conduct the poll. Harris Insights operates one of the longest-running surveys measuring public opinion in the country.