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The perils of the precarious: at work in the gig economy v1.0

Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. Several huge economic shifts at once
  3. The continued rise of freelance, temp, and contingent work
  4. The impact of automation on jobs
  5. Internal work markets
  6. Conclusions and takeaways
  7. About Stowe Boyd


A set of economic, political, and societal forces is currently causing profound changes in work and in the relationship between workers and the businesses that benefit from their labor. This report explores some of those forces — AI, automation, and the continued rise of contingent work — and their impacts and implications.

Here are the major patterns emerging:

  • Research indicates that as much as 34 percent of the U.S. workforce can be loosely defined as freelance. But much of this opportunity creates “bad” jobs that, though they may appear to give workers more freedom, result in low wages, insufficient benefits, and less employee control.
  • Emerging technologies are a two-edged sword. Worker marketplace platforms like Elance-oDesk and Workpop could play a role in decreasing the precarious nature of freelance work. But AI and automation could eliminate or reconfigure 50 percent of U.S. jobs, and displace as many as 140 million knowledge workers in years to come.
  • Worker marketplaces likely need help from government legislation that’s hard to conceive of in today’s polarized Congressional environment.

Thumbnail image courtesy of flickr user Eneas De Troya.

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