The Pew 'gig economy' study is here, and it's grim

More than half of workers say they rely on apps to make ends meet

An unhappy driver

Around 56 per cent of "gig economy" workers say the income they get from those services is essential to making ends meet.

This according to a study from Pew Research, which interviewed 4,579 workers from various app-based services including dial-a-ride, cleaning and laundry, and food and grocery delivery apps. Pew estimates that 8 per cent of adults in the US earned money working for such services this year.

The survey found that the majority of workers did not see their gig economy work as luxury income, but rather as vital pay. Fifty-six per cent of those surveyed classify their earnings as "essential or important" parts of their budget, while 44 per cent said the gig money was "nice to have" and not a key part of their total income.

Researchers also found that 32 per cent of those surveyed were unemployed outside of their gig work, while 44 per cent were otherwise employed full time and 24 per cent had part-time jobs in addition to their gig work.

"In the case of gig work, workers who describe the income they earn from these platforms as 'essential' or 'important' are more likely to come from low-income households, to be non-white and to have not attended college," Pew said.

"They are less likely to perform online tasks for pay, but more likely to gravitate towards physical tasks such as ride-hailing or cleaning and laundry."

This suggests that, in fact, more people are relying on gig work such as driving for Uber/Lyft or working for delivery services as part or all of their main household income and not the "side-work" the app services have asserted they are.

The findings are also noteworthy given the aversion many gig service owners have shown to providing their work forces with the rights, protections, and benefits commonly afforded to employees, arguing that the drivers are contract workers operating on their own time.

On the plus side, the study found that 55 per cent of gig workers are women, making it perhaps the only part of the tech industry not dominated by men.

The Pew study also found that the public is not entirely sold on those services. A survey of the general public found that 21 per cent of respondents felt gig companies place too much financial burden on their workers and 23 per cent felt the companies were taking advantage of them. ®

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