The pundits have spoken. We are headed for the “gig economy.” The Boston Globe reports that by the entire year 2020, as much as 40 percent of Americans will be employed in a gig economy. For the uninitiated, a gig economy is where workers don’t have employers; they instead perform some short-term projects, or gigs, for larger firms.
Entrepreneurs often find the allure of the gig economy irresistible. Imagine a global where you set your own schedule, determine your own dress code, and work when — and only once — you want. Your earnings potential, ostensibly, is bound only by your ambition. Also, as your entrepreneurial company grows, you don’t get saddled with the trouble of payroll insurance, employee benefits, sick leave and vacations. You just pay for the work when it’s needed.
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All and all, it appears like a winning proposition for everybody, but could it be sustainable? Proponents of the gig economy say yes, and indicate other areas of the world where in fact the gig economy accocunts for a much bigger percentage of the national economy — and the ones countries are thriving. Opponents argue these countries have completely different social structures that produce the gig economy more feasible.
There’s a vintage joke that goes “what do you call a musician with out a girlfriend? Homeless.” It doesn’t matter how you are feeling about the joke, its message aptly describes the dark side of the gig economy. It presents some very real sustainability issues:
Gigs offer no benefits. Paid time off? Forget it. Sick pay? No chance. Paid vacations? In your dreams. I understand many of you are planning — they chose this life? Maybe they did and perhaps they didn’t. It doesn’t really matter as the result may be the same. This is a concern that threatens a lot more than just the giggers. Consider dentistry. The loss of dental benefits implies that many in the gig economy opt to stop likely to the dentist or, at the minimum, reduce dental visits. Now consider vision coverage and the implications that holds. Dentistry, optometry, pharmacies, tourism — the list continues on, but you get the idea.
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Gigs replace full-time jobs. A common practice among many larger companies allows a long-term employee to retire on Friday and begin are a consultant performing a gig on the next Monday. The same person doing the same job without benefits or overhead costs. Rather than backfilling the position, the business simply moves among its employees in to the gig economy.
Gigs tend to be the consequence of larger companies outsourcing the most dangerous jobs to individuals. Most individuals lack the resources to obtain proper regulatory training, and what’s more, many small companies are actually exempt from regulatory protections for workers.
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Larger companies find the chance of transferring large blocs of their employees in to the gig economy attractive, but realistically, it’s a different story. With the increased loss of the social back-up typically afforded by employer-provided benefits and with out a corresponding upsurge in governmental replacements for these benefits, the gig economy isn’t sustainable or desirea