Uber just filed its first quarterly report as a publicly traded company. Although it lost $1bn, investors may still do well because the losses appear to be declining.
Uber drivers, on the other hand, aren’t doing well. According to a recent study, about half of New York’s Uber drivers are supporting families with children, yet 40% depend on Medicaid and another 18% on food stamps.
It’s similar elsewhere in the new American economy. Last week, the New York Times reported that fewer than half of Google workers are full-time employees. Most are temps and contractors receiving a fraction of the wages and benefits of full-time Googlers, with no job security.
Across America, the fastest-growing category of new jobs is gig work – contract, part-time, temp, self-employed and freelance. And a growing number of people work for staffing firms that find them gig jobs.
Estimates vary but it’s safe to say almost a quarter of American workers are now gig workers. Which helps explain why the standard economic measures – unemployment and income – look better than Americans feel.
The jobs problem today isn’t just stagnant wages. It’s also uncertain incomes. A downturn in demand, change in consumer preferences, or a personal injury or sickness, can cause future paychecks to disappear. Yet nearly 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
According to polls, about a quarter of American workers worry they won’t be earning enough in the future. That’s up from 15% a decade ago. Such fears are fueling working-class grievances in America, and presumably elsewhere around world where steady jobs are vanishing.
Gig work is also erasing 85 years of hard-won labor protections.