In media coverage, policy discussions, and everyday conversation, we hear a lot about on-demand platforms, freelancers, independent contractors, nonstandard work, and the “gig economy.” But what do these terms really mean? How is work actually changing? Are we destined to become a nation of “gig workers,” or are the forecasts all hype?
Many data sources suggest the nature of work is indeed changing, with workers increasingly engaging in short-term and project-based work outside of, in or addition to, full-time, long-term employer-employee relationships. Workers in these alternative arrangements face unique challenges. They experience high levels of income volatility and have less access to work-related benefits. Many businesses have turned to alternative work arrangements, including subcontracting and independent contracting, for labor outside of their core competencies. These arrangements allow firms to rapidly adapt to market pressures and can maximize short-term returns.1 These types of arrangements, and the workers who hold them, are central to our changing economy.
But each data source – whether from government, academia, or the private sector – asks different questions and applies different definitions of independent work. These discrepancies make it difficult to understand trends and identify solutions to the challenges presented by nonstandard work.
Researchers need to engage with and build off of one another’s work. Journalists need to write about what we know and don’t know accurately and with proper context. Policymakers need to make informed decisions about a variety of domestic policy areas that relate to the nonstandard workforce – including health care, the tax code, social insurance programs, workforce training, and workplace protections. And the general public needs to understand how work is changing on as they develop their opinions about what types of policies they support. The Gig Economy Data Hub is a collaborative project between the Aspen Institute's Future of Work Initiative and Cornell University's ILR School that aims to provide accessible, comprehensive information for anyone interested in better understanding the scope and nature of nonstandard and gig work today.
- 1. For a discussion of the changing nature of work as it relates to broad economic trends, see the Future of Work Initiative's report "Toward A New Capitalism."
Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative
The Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative aims to identify, develop, and amplify solutions that address the challenges of today while building toward a future in which workers are safe, empowered, and equipped to thrive in our changing world. We work with colleagues across the Economic Opportunities Program to ask:
- How can we reimagine workplace protections and benefits and eliminate the exclusions that exacerbate inequalities of race, place, and gender?
- As new technologies are introduced into workplaces, how can we harness the positive potential of emerging technologies while mediating the possible negative impacts?
- How can we leverage knowledge of a changing occupational landscape to inform worker education and training?
Across our work, the Future of Work Initiative seeks to build and disseminate knowledge rooted in workers’ experiences. We aim to advance policy ideas at the local, state, and federal level, backed by evidence. And we strive to build community and activate leaders to carry these conversations forward across sectors and around the globe.
The Future of Work Initiative was founded in 2015. Recognizing the need for a comprehensive approach to building a more inclusive economy, the Future of Work Initiative integrated with the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program in 2021.
Cornell University's ILR School
Cornell University’s ILR School is the leading college of the applied social sciences focusing on work, employment, and labor policy issues and practices of national and international significance.
ILR's mission is to prepare leaders, inform national and international employment and labor policy, and improve working lives. ILR generates and disseminates leading-edge knowledge to solve human problems, manage and resolve conflict, advance best practices in the workplace and inform government policy.
Through its Outreach Division, the ILR School trains professionals and organizational leaders across the for-profit, not-for-profit, and government sectors, building union and non-union organizational capacity from front line managers to practitioner specialists and top leadership.
Founded at Cornell University in 1945, the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations was dedicated to the common interest of employer and employee. As the world of work evolves, the school's teaching, research and outreach continues to advance.