Sebastian Anastasi: The dynamizing power of the gig economy

With change on the horizon, workers will need to be adaptive and willing to learn new skills.

Technological innovation presents unique challenges to everyday workers as industries are being transformed. Technological advancements will ultimately create millions of jobs and enable further growth. But such progress will also displace millions of workers.

By the mid-2030s, automation is projected to threaten the jobs of as many as 44% of workers with lower levels of education. At the same time, the U.S. is faced with a sizable skills gap.

History shows that job displacement from such industry-wide shifts is temporary. But adapting to this “creative destruction” will be challenging.

Projections suggest displacement will reach previously stable industries, such as financial services and transportation. Workers will have to learn new skills, engage in lengthy job searches or start new enterprises.

For these workers to adapt to new jobs, they need to find opportunities for retooling. In some cases, this includes returning to school.

Rising inflation and fear of a recession are adding an additional level of pressure on workers to find ways to boost their income, especially for those who rely on social support. For some, social support is a symptom of deficient skill sets, while others possess the requisite aptitudes but are unable to find an employer.

Workers struggling to find their niche in this economy need time and flexibility to accommodate their search for a job.

One solution may have presented itself in the form of the gig economy. Gig platforms offer the flexibility and extra pay that displaced Americans need as they adapt to new roles.

Already, students utilize gig work as a flexible way to earn income on the side. Unlike traditional jobs, gig workers are able to choose a schedule that conforms to their individualized study needs. Students can earn money taking notes in class, working as tutors, assembling furniture and doing a host of other odd jobs.

Studies show that gig work has helped increase Americans’ financial security. In the early days of Uber, for example, 71% of Uber drivers increased their overall income between 2012 and 2014. A 2021 Pew survey also found that the majority of gig workers are satisfied with the money they’ve earned. Additionally, six in 10 workers report the money earned through gig work was essential, or at least important, in meeting their basic needs.

The financial security from gig income allows workers to take more time to find a position that best suits their skills and interests. The supplemental income to sustain workers in this search process is virtually a couple taps away on these apps.

Finally, gig work provides opportunities for those who can’t work traditional full-time jobs. Gig work can be a gateway into the job market for people lacking skills or struggling with issues like substance abuse and mental illness.

With change on the horizon, workers will need to be adaptive and willing to learn new skills. The gig economy can help workers embrace this dynamism. Gig work will enable people to earn a living while they go back to school, start new businesses, or navigate difficult periods in their life.

In short, the gig economy is opening the doors of economic opportunity at a time when Americans need it most.

Sebastian Anastasi

Sebastian Anastasi is the tech and innovation policy intern at the Libertas Institute based in Lehi and an economics student at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.