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Fed report: Three in 10 do ‘gig work’; segment more likely to experience ‘economic fragility’

May 24, 2019

Three in 10 adults have engaged in gig work, however, only 3% of adults said they used a website or app to arrange for the work, according to a study released this week by the US Federal Reserve Board of Governors. It also said adults doing gig work are a segment of the population more likely to experience heightened “economic fragility.”

However, the “Report on the Economic Well-Being of US Households in 2018” took a very broad view of gig work, defining it as “informal, infrequent paid activities.” The definition includes child care, house cleaning, ride-sharing, as well as goods related activities such as selling goods online or renting out property. The definition includes both online and offline activities.

It found at least three in 10 adults engaged in at least one of these gig activities in the month before the survey, which took place from Oct. 11, 2018 to Nov. 12, 2018.

“The relatively high prevalence rates of gig work in this survey likely reflect the broad set of activities covered,” according to the report. “Some studies of gig work, instead, focus only on those who use a website or mobile app to connect with customers. Using this narrower definition, 3% of adults in this survey say that they participated in gig work enabled by these technologies.”

Younger individuals, those ages 18 to 29 were more likely to perform gig work, and many workers overall use it to supplement their income with a few relying on it as a main source.

For 55% of gig workers, these activities account for less than 10% of their family income. Six percent rely on gig work for 90% of their family income. But gig workers with less education are more likely to rely on gig work for a larger portion of their income.

Adults doing gig work are a segment of the population that may experience heightened financial fragility, the report said. It used two measures: difficulty handling as little as$400 in unexpected expenses and using alternative financial services such as cashing a check at a place other than a bank. For those doing gig work as their primary source of income, 58% would have difficulty handling an unexpected expense compared to 44% doing gig work to supplement their income.

Share of adults with gig work

Child care or elder care services 5%
Dog walking, feeding pets, housesitting 3%
House cleaning, yard word 6%
Driving or ride-sharing (Uber, Lyft) 3%
Paid tasks online 2%
Other personal tasks such as errands 4%
Sold goods at flea markets or garage sales 5%
Sold goods at consignment shops 3%
Sold goods online (eBay, Craigslist) 10%
renout out property such as a car or house 4%
Any other paid activities not already mentioned 2%

Note: Respondents can select multiple answers.

In addition to work under the report’s definition of gig work, it looked at workers with temporary work contracts. It said these workers are often associated with lower economic well-being than more stable work arrangements. In the report’s survey, 8% said their main job was a temporary job.

Overall, many families have experienced substantial gains since the survey began in 2013. Still there exists persistent economic disparities by race, education and geography.

The Fed’s 2018 survey is based on 11,440 completed responses.


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