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A Brief History of the Gig Economy

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The gig economy has provided millions of people with new sources of income and the chance to enjoy better job flexibility. It’s growing every year and it’s only expected to get bigger. But when did the gig economy start? How has it changed since it began?

In this guide, we’ll give a detailed breakdown of when the gig economy started, how it has evolved, and where it’s predicted to go.

What is the Gig Economy?

The gig economy is a system in which businesses contract workers for short term jobs or tasks - typically through mobile apps. These temporary, contract, and freelance jobs offer more flexibility than traditional full-time jobs. Many people that work in this labor market have multiple gigs going at a time to sustain a livable income.

In recent years, the gig economy has exploded. But it certainly didn’t start overnight. We’ve traced the onset back as far as 1994 – when only approximately two million computers were connected to the “World Wide Web.” Now, in 2019, approximately 4 billion people use the internet. And an estimated 60 million of them are expected to remain in or join the gig economy by 2020.

The traditional employer-employee relationship is evolving. The rise of the demand economy is changing the nature of work as well. Both will continue to do so as more and more people seek alternative work arrangements made possible by technology.

What are the Most Popular Gig Economy Industries?

Independent workers in the gig economy perform a wide range of tasks. Jobs can be as simple as dog walking to more complex assignments like blockchain architecture.

The most popular are within the sharing economy: transportation, delivery, lodging, and lifestyle.

The transportation industry includes ridesharing, scooter rental, and car-share companies. These gigs allow you to do everything from operating your own taxi to charging and repairing electric scooters. So what makes this industry the most popular? It requires little experience to get started and the jobs are easy for most people to get.

The on-demand delivery industry has made it super easy to order what you want and have it delivered right to your door within an hour or so. Drivers and couriers deliver food, groceries, alcohol, and almost anything from local and online stores.

The platform economy is changing the lodging industry and the way people travel. Anyone can list their home on a lodging site and earn extra money by renting a bedroom, a couch, or an entire house. It's perfect for people looking to make a little extra money, and it’s a great way to avoid having to stay in a traditional hotel.

The lifestyle industry provides platforms that make it easier to take care of day-to-day things that affect your life. Babysitting, dog walking, moving, and house cleaning can now be more than side hustles — they can be full-time self-employment.

Icon Transportation Toggle Chevron Icon

The transportation industry includes ridesharing companies, scooter rental companies, and car share companies. These gigs allow you to do everything from operate your own taxi to charge and repair electric scooters. So what makes this industry the most popular? It requires little experience to get started, and the jobs are easy for most people to get.

Icon Delivery Toggle Chevron Icon

The delivery industry includes food and package delivery companies like Postmates, Doordash, Amazon Flex, and more. These gig services allow you to get paid for picking up and dropping off items at consumers’ houses, and require little experience to get started.

Icon Lodging Toggle Chevron Icon

The lodging industry includes short-term housing rental companies like Airbnb and VRBO. These gig services allow renters and homeowners to rent out their entire home, a single bedroom, and more. These services require minimal experience to get started.

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The task industry includes assisting individuals and companies with simple tasks through services like Mechanical Turk, Handy, and more. Workers earn reasonable wages for completing simple tasks (many of which can be completed from home). These services require minimal experience to get started.

Icon Lifestyle Toggle Chevron Icon

The lifestyle industry includes selling clothes online through Poshmark, teaching classes through ClassPass, and much more. These gig services offer great ways to escape the 9-5 lifestyle by getting paid to do work that you love.

What are the most popular companies?

There are hundreds of gig services, and the number is constantly growing. Let's look more in depth at the history and progression of this exciting new sector of the economy:

The Gig Economy Through the Years

1994

Amazon launches its online marketplace. It becomes the first online platforms for buyers to purchase goods and sellers to sell items. It all begins with the buying and selling of online books.

Elance becomes the first online platform to connect freelancers with businesses looking for contract labor. It has since merged with oDesk to form Upwork, one of the largest online freelancer platforms in the world.

1999

Seamless creates a platform that connects restaurants with customers to assist in food delivery. It has since merged with GrubHub and now contracts freelance workers to make the actual order deliveries.

2005

YouTube is founded. It allows any individual with a web cam or video camera to upload their own videos and provide entertainment to the public. It also creates a new opportunity for individuals to earn income by placing ads into their videos.

Airbnb and TaskRabbit launch. Airbnb allows individuals to rent their homes and apartments to travelers for short periods of time, changing how people travel and where they stay.

2008

TaskRabbit creates a platform where freelancers can complete small tasks. Tasks vary from assembling IKEA furniture to making customer service phone calls.

2009

Uber is founded, connecting drivers and riders through their app.

WeWork launches, offering individuals and businesses with the option to lease individual desks and small offices by the day or month.

2010

UK employees are granted the right to request flexible work schedules after 26 weeks of continuous, full-time employment.

2018

In the first major federal ruling on the gig economy, Uber workers were classified as independent contractors, rather than employees.

Gallup reports that 36% of U.S workers are a part of the gig economy, in some capacity.

17 Gig Economy Stats That Will Blow Your Mind

Demographics

56.7
MILLION americans work
as freelancers
in the
gig economy
24 %
of Americans over the
age of 18 earn money
working gig jobs
Stat Image
Stat Image
And Only
24 %
of all American workers
are not employed in the
gig economy
in any way

Work / Life Balance

77 %
of American workers in the gig economy say they have a better work/life balance
84 %
say they prioritize lifestyle over earnings
Stat Image
94 %
of workers are open to working non-traditional jobs in the gig economy
divider
63 %
of executives would work in the gig economy if they had the opportunity

Money and Finances

40 % of workers
use the gig economy as a supplemental source of income
44 % of workers
earn most of their income working for gig economy services
49 % of workers
whose primary source of income is the gig economy say their financial situation is better now than 10 years ago
Stat Image
1 in 5
of full-time gig economy workers earn more than $100,000

Freelancing

30 %
of workers in the gig economy say working as a freelance agent is their preferred choice
Freelancer Image
And
63 %
of people believe that having a portfolio of different clients is more reliable than having one single employer
Stat Image
51 %
of freelancers and gig economy workers are highly satisfied with their work

The Gig Economy is Here to Stay

Conclusion Image

It’s estimated that by 2020, more than 60 million American workers will play a role in the gig economy. Workers want flexibility. They want a work-life balance. They want to do work that they actually enjoy. And with technology, most people can do the job they want without having to be in a physical office.

The gig economy is growing around the world. And for the companies who haven’t yet gotten on board with hiring freelance talent and independent contractors, it’s time to start. Otherwise, those will be left behind.

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