Remember all those articles about how the “gig economy” had become the wave of the future? Over and over again they told us how much young people loved the freedom of scheduling their own time, how the gig economy benefits both workers and consumers, and why we all should leap into the new paradigm with both feet.
- Working from home beats commuting
- Independence means being your own boss
- Flexible schedules are better than long hours in the office
- Selecting the jobs you want to do replaces taking orders from the boss
- Using your own equipment is more efficient.
Some writers predicted drastic shifts in the way people work and difficulty hiring as young people chose ”on-demand” assignments instead of full time employment.
The Expert Smokescreen
As it turns out—and as many of us suspected all along—this was all gaslighting blown at us by everybody from The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal to Fast Company and the Harvard Business Review.
The experts told us that, “Younger workers all around the world want to work differently than their parents did.” But the bottom line was always, “What’s in it for your company.”
“It,” of course, was the enormous pool of workers willing to do on-demand work for low wages and no benefits just to earn a living and pay off their college debt.
Bailing Out of the Gig Economy
Now an improving economy puts that theory to the test by creating more real jobs. Guess what? Those young people are not finding the gig economy so attractive after all.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Kelsey Gee asks, “In a Job Market This Good, Who Needs to Work in the Gig Economy?” Who, indeed?
We know, after all, that the flip side of the much-touted independence and flexibility is instability, insecurity, living without benefits, and funding your own equipment. Maybe the gig economy functions for people who want to put in just enough effort to finance a laid-back life style but serious workers still prefer a good job and a career.
That means the pool of laid-off, never-hired, and otherwise unemployed people desperate to eat and pay the rent is drying up. They made a very convenient resource for gig economy companies to exploit, while the media bragged about the superiority of part-time, temporary and contract work. Now, not so much.
Facing the New Reality
Faced with this new reality, ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft have begun offering perks, bonuses, benefits and even maintenance reimbursement. Other on-demand companies are following suit.
The smart ones will find a balance between compensation and profits, stability and exploitation, a reliable workforce and Mayfly contractors who can’t pass a drug test. Apps are great—an efficient way to order everything from a ride to groceries, pizza to package delivery—but these companies run on the work of actual human beings.
How well any company treats those human beings will affect its success. Just look at the fallout from the way former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick ran his company—and his mouth. Where is Mr. Kalanick now? He’s out on the sidewalk with no way back in. (Lyft is better anyway.)
Silencing the Drumbeat
I don’t oppose app and on-demand companies. They offer opportunities to many people who don’t want, aren’t ready for, need a break from, or haven’t yet found full-time work. What bothered me with the drumbeat of expert analysis that told us why we should prefer volatility to stability and a trickle-down life to a living wage. “Let’s blow some smoke at them so they won’t realize they’re being exploited.”
Maybe now we’ll see less of that. A stable job and a good salary lead to a sound economy as everyone spends more and prosperity spreads around.
And stop telling us why instability is good. We know better. No one graduates from college with the goal of delivering groceries or driving a private taxi. Let’s have more opportunity and fewer excuses, please.