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Is the gig [economy] up?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Uber and Lyft drivers staged protests in major U.S. cities on May 8 to call attention to wage and work issues.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, some gig economy startups are seeing a turnover rate as high as 500 percent per year.

Gig-economy megasite Upwork has 2.02 million registered users, but they’re all competing for just 76,670 posted jobs.

A recent estimate from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number of Americans now working in the gig economy at 16.5 million people, but that number pales in comparison to a Gallup report that 36 percent of U.S. workers, or 57 million people, are in the gig economy. Further, Gallup estimates this workforce is currently expanding three times faster than the traditional workforce, and could account for up to 43 percent of all workers by 2020.

The workers are there, even if the jobs, wages, and benefits are not. What’s spelling potential doom for the gig economy is the fact that something else is missing, too — passion.

The side hustles that so many people were quick to adopt in recent years to make a little extra cash may have accomplished that goal in the short term, but over the long haul one question remains: How many people are really interested in ferrying around strangers in their car during their off hours?

A lot of us like the idea of gig work to help make ends meet or save up for a big purchase or special trip, but the reason for such high turnover probably has just as much — if not more — to do with the relatively poor pay and lack of job security as it does with gig workers just plain not caring all that much about the work they’re being paid to do.

Your side hustle should be fun. It should also be something you care about. If you’re giving up your free time to do it, shouldn’t you at least enjoy what you’re doing? Passion projects may not pay much, but then again you’re doing them because you’re passionate about it, not necessarily for the money.

My personal side hustle often gets a chuckle. I tell people I sell my body, but I’m really just selling my blood plasma. That’s a thing a lot of people have told me they did during college when they were always strapped for cash, not as a married 39-year-old father of two boys with a full-time job. It’s probably silly to say I’m passionate about selling plasma, but I am passionate about having a couple hours a week to myself, where I can relax and quietly read a book, all while getting paid to help save lives.

I know I’m not putting in “work” when I sell blood plasma, but it’s a manageable side gig that doesn’t eat up too much of my valuable family time while still acting as a nice slush fund to pay for my sons’ hockey expenses without dipping into our regular budget. And hockey is expensive!

The main thing is that I enjoy doing it, probably just as much as the person who makes crafts and sells them for a few bucks at the local farmers market and most definitely more than I would making use of my professional talents and picking up freelance editing gigs on the side for people or companies I don’t care about.

For the gig economy to remain viable in the long run, it’s certainly going to need gig companies like Uber and Lyft to figure out how to provide their workers with decent wages and fair benefits. But it’s also going to require more gig startups to build themselves around the kind of work people are passionate about.

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Jun 13, 2019 06:09 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I could see Uber or Lyft being a nice departure from the stress of a desk job. Some of us like to drive and listen to tunes. But maybe it's more trouble than it's worth. So many people need side hustles these days, and that's often seen as a negative, but we *can* make the best of it. Thanks for that perspective. Good column.

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