Innovation

Ready to get rich off the gig economy? Don't count on it

Microtask and gig economy workers aren't earning much, and they're making less than they did a few years ago, a JPMorgan Chase Institute report found.

Workers have turned to the gig economy as a way to work with more flexible hours or supplement their income from another job. But it's not a good way to make a lot of money.

According to a report from the JPMorgan Chase Institute, the average earnings of online platform transportation workers—such as Uber or Lyft drivers—has dropped 53% between 2013-2017. This means that the average monthly payout for transportation workers on these platforms dropped from $1,469 to $783 per month in that time frame, as noted by a Recode report.

According to the JPMorgan report, any number of factors could have caused the drop in pay. It could be due to drivers working fewer hours, less demand, the platforms paying lower rates, or falling trip prices. In the Recode report, however, an Uber spokesperson claimed that the average hourly earnings have remained steady.

SEE: Remote access policy (Tech Pro Research)

On the rental side of things, through platforms like Airbnb, incomes rose by 69% in that timeframe, according to the report. While these earnings are strong, participants are usually not consistent in their participation, and are using it to complement their more traditional jobs.

"More broadly, we do not find evidence that the Online Platform Economy is replacing traditional sources of income for most families," the JPMorgan report said. "Taken together, our findings indicate that regardless of whether or not platform work could in principle represent the 'future of work,' most participants are not putting it to the type of use that would usher in that future."

Another form of gig economy work is microtasking, or taking on small tasks that cannot yet be automated and are distributed over the internet to many workers. Platforms that offer this work include Amazon Mechanical Turk, Crowdflower, Clickworker, Prolific, and Microworker.

Microtasking is often billed in a similar light to other forms of gig work—as a way to work flexible hours or fill in salary gaps. But a new study from the United Nations' International Labor Organization (ILO) claims that much of the work is unpaid or paid very little.

Workers on Mechanical Turk, for example, made $6.54 per hour on average in the US and $2.53 per hour in India. Across all platforms globally, the average pay was $3.31 per hour when paid and unpaid work was factored in. The work is also stressful and hard to come by, workers report.

While technology has enabled new ways of making money through the gig economy, it hasn't yet created the kind of gig jobs that can sustain life for the worker. The gig economy is a great place to make some extra money, but not to make ends meet.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • The average income for gig economy transportation workers on online platforms dropped 53% between 2013-2017. — JPMorgan Chase, 2018
  • Across all platforms globally, the average pay for microtask workers was $3.31 per hour when paid and unpaid work was factored in. — UN ILO, 2018

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/Josie_Desmarais

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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