Nearly 40 Percent of U.S. Workers Prefer Gig Work

By Roy Maurer Sep 26, 2016
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About 4 in 10 U.S. workers would prefer to work outside of the traditional, full-time, salaried 40-hour workweek, according to new research.

Thirty-seven percent of 7,000 respondents selected alternatives to full-time employment as their preference, with gig work emerging as a leading choice for many.

The finding is from research on the size and scope of the contingent workforce in the United States, conducted by Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA), a staffing advisory firm based in Mountain View, Calif.

SIA defined contingent work as synonymous with gig work—anyone working on a temporary basis across one or more various types of work arrangements, including:

  • Temporary workers assigned through a staffing agency.
  • Workers managed through an online platform.
  • Independent contractors.
  • Self-employed workers.
  • Temporary employees sourced directly, including summer interns and seasonal workers.
  • Statement of work consultants employed by consulting firms.

"Understanding who the gig economy workers are and how they engage with work is of critical importance to enterprise success," said Barry Asin, president of SIA. "With close to one-third of the U.S. workforce active in the gig economy, and spend that is steadily approaching $1 trillion, challenges and opportunities abound."

According to the research, an estimated 44 million people took on gig work in the United States in 2015. Twenty-nine percent of all U.S. workers performed some contingent work last year, working for either individuals (26 million) or organizations (18 million). Total spending on gig work in the U.S. in 2015 was $792 billion.

"At close to $800 billion, gig and contingent work is a very large sector of the economy, on par with areas that get much more scrutiny and understanding," Asin said.

The largest portion of gig workers in 2015 fell into the independent contractor or self-employed category (23.5 million workers, or 15.5 percent of the U.S. workforce.) There were 14 million workers taking on contingent work through temporary assignments, either through staffing firms (9.5 million workers or 6.2 percent of the U.S. workforce) or engaged directly in W-2 work arrangements (5.5 million workers, or 3.6 percent of the U.S. workforce). Direct temporary work is more common outside the U.S. where "at-will" employment is rare, Asin said.

About 9.7 million workers, or 6.4 percent of the U.S. workforce, find gig work through the cloud, Web or app-based platforms such as Uber, Upwork or Freelancer. This type of work is more often used to provide supplementary income.

Finally, 2.9 million workers, or 1.9 percent of the U.S. workforce, are salaried employees of a consulting firm on a statement-of-work contract with a client company.

Moonlighting

The survey found that moonlighting—performing work outside of one's primary work—is a common practice among contingent workers. The practice emerged as most prevalent among cloud workers, with 69 percent saying they moonlight to supplement their income. Over half (54 percent) of temp agency workers and 46 percent of independent contractors said they moonlighted for additional income.

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