One of the most-hyped changes to the U.S. labor market has been “the rise of Uber and its ilk”—companies that use smartphone apps to connect workers to gig jobs. The most prominent example of this phenomenon is, of course, Uber, the ride-hailing service that allows people to summon drivers with an app and pay by the ride. Other startups are attempting to bring this business model to a wide range of industries.
JPMorgan’s research found that many people had briefly experimented with gig-economy labor sites, with about 1% of adults having tried one at some point since October 2012, and an additional 3% having earned money from the capital sites. But they found that most people have not remained very active on these platforms. Other surveys that have reported larger numbers of gig workers may be either capturing people who only briefly experimented with the services, rather than those who use them as an ongoing source of income, or capture people in tenuous—but offline—alternative work arrangements.
All of this points to a compelling explanation about the once-mysterious shift in how Americans work:
- There has been a large rise in offline contract work, which has little to do with the rise of apps and Silicon Valley startups.
- People have experimented with online gig-economy platforms, but most abandon them. Only a relatively small number of people continue to earn money this way.
- Most people earning money online do it from selling things—either products or rental housing.
- People who earn money from online labor platforms are mostly Uber drivers.