Gig Economy Expected to Expand Post-Pandemic

In some ways, the gig economy was flourishing prior to the pandemic. Studies suggest the growth is likely to continue, based on a variety of related factors.

After a year of dealing with the pandemic, many Americans are still searching for jobs to replace those lost during 2020. On the other hand, many workers who have kept their jobs are searching for flexibility in their careers. Sources say both groups are likely to consider entering the gig economy.

A study by the job search and hiring support provider Monster found that due to the coronavirus pandemic, 92% of respondents believe now is a “good time” to search for work in the gig economy. Among those, 57% said they would take some form gig work while in between other jobs, 52% noted they would like long-term contracts with flexible hours and 39% would like short-term contract or temp work.

“Over the course of the pandemic, you’ve had a lot of people enter this economy because their full-time jobs went away or they have children they needed to take care of at home, so there are more people entering the gig sector,” says Sally Culley, a partner at Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell who has experience defending employment-related claims.

Prior to the global emergence of COVID-19, some 44 million U.S. workersor 28.2% of the workforcewere self-employed at some point in 2019, according to research by Gallup. A different 2019 MetLife study had found that 85% of gig workers had said they would continue working in this fashion in the next five years. Today, Gallup estimates the number of gig workers has risen to 36% of the U.S. workforce, or about 59 million Americans.

The prevalence of gig workers also depends on geographic regions and job sectors. A study by the Aspen Institute found gig workers are most likely to reside in mountain and Pacific states, with the lowest concentration living in Northeast and Upper Midwest states.

Culley notes that more gig workers are in the western regions of the United States, and nationally there are more gig employees in urban areas, ostensibly due to a greater number of opportunities. An overrepresentation of the gig workforce resides in California, particularly in major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, she says.

Specific sectors of the workforce are also seeing an influx of gig workers, particularly the information technology (IT) and health care spaces.

A ProUnlimited study found IT analysts increased their representation in the gig economy by 43% in 2020, while IT/tech project managers rose by 23%. Clinical pharmacists rose by 18%, data engineers by 31%, marketing managers by 18% and designers by 9%.

“One of the things that the pandemic has done is force more flexibility on workers and companies,” Culley adds. “Many people have had to find jobs that are more flexible, and I think employers are really going to have to think about what this means for the long term. Many employees will find that they want to maintain a more flexible schedule.”