Charlottesville: Home of the Brave, Land of the Free(lancers)
These online platforms are all part of the “on-demand” or “gig economy,” a rapidly expanding – and increasingly controversial – host of startups that connect independent service providers with customers via crisply designed online marketplaces. These apps boast a lot of convenience, but have drawn heat because they lack the safety net of traditional employment. An Uber driver, for example, may work 40 or 50 hours per week on the platform, but he or she is technically classified as a 1099 independent contractor rather than a W-2 employee. As such, an Uber driver does not receive employer-provided insurance, retirement contributions, vacation, or any of the other benefits afforded traditional workers. Meanwhile Uber gets to dodge payroll tax and a host of HR headaches. Some labor advocates and traditional employers feel like the apps are getting off too easy. Others are more inclined to value the flexibility and earnings that these platforms provide for workers, and urge regulators to let these young companies innovate solutions on their own.
So. That’s a neat bit of trivia, but what does it have to do with your friend, the wedding photographer? The Thumbtack ranking is interesting, because it shows that Charlottesville – and your freelancer friend – might be at the vanguard of some very big macroeconomic changes to the way we work. In 20 years, so the thinking goes, we may all be freelancers, winning jobs on apps through our ability to show off our skills and experience. If this report has anything to say, Charlottesville may already be leading the nation in this trend.
According to a report last year from the Government Accountability Office, 40.4 percent of American workers are already “contingent,” meaning that they are self-employed, part-time, temps, day-laborers, or otherwise freelancing. They don’t get employee benefits, and many have to hunt down work more or less daily. This kind of contingent work poses major a major challenge to the nation’s safety net, leaving a huge swath of Americans without protections like sick leave, unemployment insurance, and workers comp. Even more strikingly, firms like Intuit forecast that task-based employment is likely only to grow. Why pay someone for who they are (a role), when what you really need is what they do (a specific task or project)? Digital platforms will allow employers to take these efficiencies to their logical extreme on a scale that has never before been possible. And it’s not just “low-skill” workers like taxi drivers who will feel the change, but law clerks, accountants, and a lot of other “cognitive” workers, too – witness accounting mega-giant PwC’s new freelance platform.