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Over a million Americans rely for income on gig work found through apps and websites

September 28, 2018

The first government-funded look at digital gig work has found that 1% of American workers now use platforms like Uber to find work.

A tech update: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics today released the first data on how many workers rely on “electronically mediated employment,” which just means work found through mobile apps or websites that connect them with customers and arrange payment for the tasks (e.g., Uber and Postmates).

By the numbers: The study found that as of May 2017, the US had 1.6 million workers relying on tech platforms for gig work, accounting for about 1% of total employment. That number includes people using the platforms for primary jobs, as well as those using it to provide a small supplemental income. Just over half did this work in person (like driving an Uber), while the rest did it completely online.

Who are these workers? Black and African-American workers were overrepresented in in-person gig work, while whites were overrepresented in online work. Compared with the rest of the workforce, electronic gig workers over 25 were more likely to have a bachelor’s degree.

One piece of the puzzle: These findings provide one more building block to help understand the world of gig work, which has been notoriously difficult to analyze. The new figures also tally quite well with the estimate made by the JPMorgan Chase Institute earlier this week that 1.6% of households rely on income from these digital platforms.

But some initial difficulties that the surveyors faced in getting accurate data from the survey show that clearer studies still need to be performed. As Shelly Steward of the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative told MIT Technology Review: “As the economy changes, we need consistent measures over time, along with new ways of thinking about and measuring work, in order to fully understand the experiences of workers and the challenges they face.”

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