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Posted by: Doug Henwood | June 7, 2018

No it’s not a gig economy

Despite the voluble testimony of pundits and bar companions, the world of work is not one of Uber drivers and temp workers. In fact, the share of U.S. employment accounted for by contingent and “alternative” arrangements is lower now than it was in 2005 and 1995.

That testimony is derived from several original sources. For example, a much ballyhooed 2014 study commissioned by the Freelancers Union—which is not a materially disinterested party—reported that a third of workers are freelancers. The claim of a 2016 paper by Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger that “all of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements” was widely quoted and quickly became folk wisdom. That paper was based on an online survey conducted by the RAND Corporation The survey was small—fewer than 4,000 respondents—and its sample wasn’t very representative of the overall population, a flaw the authors corrected through vigorous statistical handiwork.

Data released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics should put an end to this chatter. According to a special edition of their Current Population Survey, a monthly poll of 60,000 households conducted jointly with the Census Bureau, just 3.8% of workers were classed as contingent in May 2017, meaning they don’t expect their job to last a year. That’s down from 4.1% in 2005 and 4.9% in 1995. (Reports from the years before 2017 are here.) Tighter definitions show smaller shares, but also down from earlier years. In 2017, 96.2% of workers were noncontingent, compared with 95.1% 22 years earlier.

The share of workers in “alternative” arrangements was 10.1%. Of those, 6.9% were independent contractors, 1.7% were on-call, and 1.5% were employed by either temp or contract firms. That means that 89.9% of the workforce has a “traditional” job, down 0.2 point from 1995.

There’s less of a racial pattern to contingency than one might guess: 3.7% of white workers don’t expect their jobs to last, compared to 4.0% of black workers; 4.9% of Asian, and 5.1% of “Hispanic/Latino.” All these shares are down from 1995. Nor is there a vast gender disparity: 3.9% of women, vs. 3.8% of men are contingent.

And not all independent contractors are freelancers hanging on by a thread: 39% are in managerial or professional occupations, slightly less than their share of the overall workforce. These would include self-employed doctors or consultants. Reflecting that, independent contractors are more likely to be white and male than nonwhite non-men. Other forms of alternative arrangements show surprisingly little variation by race and gender; nonwhites are more likely to be temp workers, but there’s no gender gap at all. Almost all demographic groups show little change from 1995, and most of those changes are downward.

Of course, not all contingent workers are consultants or contract programmers. Full-time contingent workers earn 77% as much as noncontingent workers; contingent part-timers earn 89% as much as noncontingent part-timers.. Almost three-quarters—73%—have some kind of employer-provided health insurance, compared to 84% of noncontingents. All in all, 55% of contingent workers would like a traditional job.

“Alternative” workers are better off. Full-time independent contractors make 96% as much as noncontingent full-timers; contract workers (heavily used in tech) make 22% more. Temp workers—0.9% of the workforce—are much worse off, however, making 41% less than the traditionally employed. About three-quarters of independent contractors have employer-provided health insurance, but only two-thirds of temp workers do.

None of this is to argue that the world of work is a delight. But we should be clear about what the problems are. Precarity isn’t the major problem in the American labor market. It’s that wages are stagnant or worse, benefits are eroding, and much labor is dull, alienating, pointless, and sometimes dangerous. Many people with normal, full-time jobs have a hard time making ends meet, and most households have little or no savings to fall back on in a crisis. Emphasizing precarity only makes workers feel even more powerless than they are.

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Posted by: Doug Henwood | June 7, 2018

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

June 7, 2018 Adam Gaffney (see link for articles) on how to get prescription drug prices down • Barry Eichengreen, author of The Populist Temptation, on the nationalist/xenophobic turn (Trump, Brexit, etc.), and on the future of the U.S. dollar

Posted by: Doug Henwood | May 31, 2018

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May 31, 2018 Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson on why black Americans should resist gun control • Sabri Oncu on Turkey—the currency panic, the political and economic troubles

Posted by: Doug Henwood | May 24, 2018

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May 24, 2018 Richard Walker, author of Pictures of a Gone City, on what the tech boom has done to the Bay Area

Posted by: Doug Henwood | May 17, 2018

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May 17, 2018 Carol Graham (papers here, here, and here) on failing health and declining prospects among poor white people • Kristen Ghodsee, co-author of this article, on the vile uses of anti-communism

Posted by: Doug Henwood | May 10, 2018

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May 10, 2018 Christy Thornton on AMLO and Mexico’s July elections • Richard Florida on the spatial dimensions of inequality

Posted by: Doug Henwood | May 8, 2018

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May 3, 2018 Alejandro Velasco on Venezuela • Jessica Blatt, author of Race and the Making of American Political Science, on the racist origins of the discipline

Posted by: Doug Henwood | April 27, 2018

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April 26, 2018 Corey Pein, author of Live Work Work Work Die, on the dark side of the Silicon Valley • an anonymous sex worker on the legal dangers of SESTA/FOSTA

Posted by: Doug Henwood | April 19, 2018

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April 19, 2018 Kate Doyle Griffiths on teachers’ strikes and the crisis in social reproduction • Thea Riofrancos and Daniel Denvir on Yascha Mounck and liberal derangement syndrome

Posted by: Doug Henwood | April 6, 2018

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April 5, 2018 Sean Jacobs, founder of Africa Is A Country, on Winnie Mandela’s legacy • Forrest Hylton on Colombian politics in the run-up to May’s presidential election

Posted by: Doug Henwood | March 29, 2018

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March 29, 2018 Sean Guillory, host of the Sean’s Russia Blog Podcast, on Putin and Russophobia • Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing, on school shootings and what (not) to do about them (and why it’s bad to label school shooters as terrorists)

Posted by: Doug Henwood | March 23, 2018

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March 22, 2018 Jennifer Berkshire, host of Have You Heard?, on teachers’ strikes, WV and beyond • Stan Collender on fiscal follies in DC

Posted by: Doug Henwood | March 17, 2018

The wit and wisdom of Larry Kudlow

News that Larry Kudlow will become Trump’s top economic advisor reminded me of my experience with him when we were Left vs. Right guests on a WNYC-TV show in the early 1990s. WNYC’s studios were then in the Municipal Building in lower Manhattan. A producer met us in the lobby to take us upstairs, and proudly noted that the building had just been renovated. Larry’s response: “They should have just let it fall down.”

In an effort to democratize the form, WNYC had placed remote cameras in a few dwellings around the city, so citizens could ask questions and make comments to the guests. Larry had unsurprisingly spent much of the show mourning the passing of Reaganomics and prescribing it as the cure for all our ills. One of the remote questioners was a black man in East New York (a Brooklyn neighborhood that was then and still is one of the poorest in the city). He told Larry that they didn’t see any of that Reagan magic in his neighborhood. Larry dismissed his testimony, saying “the Reagan years were a Golden Age of black entrepreneurship.”

When it was all over and the cameras were turned off, Larry asked us “Where the hell is East New York?”

Posted by: Doug Henwood | March 15, 2018

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March 15, 2018 John Clarke of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty on what’s wrong with a Universal Basic Income • Isabel Hilton on Xi Jinping’s becoming China’s president for life

Posted by: Doug Henwood | March 9, 2018

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March 8, 2018 Jason Wilson on dwindling numbers on the far right • Tim Shorrock on the relations among the two Koreas and the U.S.

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