Should Selling Breast Milk Online Count as Work?

Photograph by Amana Productions inc/Getty Images

Should renting out a room on Airbnb count as work? What about selling hair, or breast milk on online marketplaces? It’s not counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reported yesterday that the U.S. economy added 148,000 jobs in September.

That’s a big problem, according to Freelancers Union executive director Sara Horowitz, who’s been criticizing the BLS for ignoring freelancers for months. Here’s a quote from a blog post Horowitz wrote last month, titled “The Unemployment Numbers as Sham.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment surveys were designed (back in the 1940s) to keep track of who has a full-time job, who doesn’t, and who’s looking. But the way we work has changed dramatically since then. People are abandoning the 40-hour workweek—some by choice, some by circumstance—and becoming freelancers, working gig to gig, project to project.

The upshot, Horowitz told the New Entrepreneur in August, is that the government pays short shrift to the needs of freelancers. By the way, 29 percent of New York City residents who rent their apartments on Airbnb happen to be freelancers, the company said yesterday. Companies that run marketplaces where women sell their breast milk online haven’t churned out similar research on employment status.