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Allison Schrager

Where Are All the Gig Workers and What Are They Doing?

The pandemic has accelerated one of the biggest changes in our labor market since the industrial evolution: independent work. Now we need policy makers to embrace it.

Self-employment is the most traditional kind of job.

Self-employment is the most traditional kind of job.

Photographer: Westend61 via Getty Images

The Great Resignation is turning into the biggest economic puzzle of our time.  Quits are up and hires are down, and employers from investment banks to McDonald's Corp. are complaining they can’t find workers. Where have people gone? It could be they are trying something new: life as an independent contractor or gig worker.

That may explain the latest confusing jobs numbers. Last month a survey of households suggested employment is up 0.7%, but a survey of existing establishments reported new hires are only up 0.1%. At least some of the difference could be more people starting a new businesses; they would be excluded from the establishment survey, but count as employed in the household survey. There are many appealing aspects to going it alone, and the economy is adapting to make gig and contract work possible for people of all income and skill levels. Big shocks like a pandemic tend to accelerate existing economic trends, and more independent work could prove to be that big change.