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Could the Gig Economy Collapse?

Depending on whom you ask, the gig economy either liberates workers from the restraints of full-time, exclusive employment, allowing them to make money whenever and wherever — or creates a system of exploitation that enriches companies while shelling out pennies for labor.
gig economy
Image Credit: Jason Tester/Flickr

The reality, of course, is often somewhere in between: you probably won’t get rich driving for Uber or Lyft, especially on a part-time basis, but you can make some extra money that way (if nowhere near as much money as the company you’re working for). The danger is if “real” jobs disappear entirely, replaced with by-the-job gigs that come without health insurance, paid time off, or even the illusion of job security.

Before you get too worried about that possibility, however, consider that the gig economy might not be with us forever — at least, not in its current form.

At Forbes, Larry Alton asks, Is the Gig Economy a Bubble That’s About to Burst? and provides some compelling examples that it might, including lawsuits against ride-sharing services that indicate the industry could be “sued to death” and the possibility that workers themselves may demand more security.

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However, he doesn’t necessarily think the gig economy is doomed.

“In the short term, it isn’t going anywhere; the concept is too popular and relied upon by too many freelancers for it to disappear or see a massive downturn in the next few years,” Alton writes. “However, I do expect to see new legislation dictating standards for gig-based work emerge by the end of the decade—and that could have a significant impact on how we engage in this system of work.”

How Robots Could Kill the Gig Economy

Of course, there’s one more factor that might impact the gig economy, but not to workers’ benefit: automation. Lyft claims that most of its fleet will be self-driving cars by 2022, while Uber has already rolled out its first self-driving cars in Pittsburgh.

That’s obviously not-so-great news for ride-sharing drivers, who would be out of a job.

“The gig economy as we know it will not last,” wrote Jon Lieber, chief economist at Thumbtack, and Lucas Puente, an economic analyst at the company, in recent report. “In the past few years, analysts and reporters have obsessively focused on transportation technology platforms such as Uber and Lyft and delivery technology platforms such as Instacart and the workers needed for these on-demand services. This narrow focus on low-skilled ‘gigs’ misses a larger story. These relatively commoditized, undifferentiated services are supplementing income, not generating middle-class lifestyles. Moreover, these tasks are overwhelmingly likely to be automated over time, performed by self-driving cars and drones.”

h/t for Thumbtack report: CNBC

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think the gig economy is a bubble — and if so, is that a bad thing? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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