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2020 SHED Report Offers Glimpse of Gig Work During the Pandemic

The Federal Reserve Board’s eighth annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED) report was released on May 17, 2021, making it one of the first long-standing surveys to provide information on gig work during the pandemic. As it had in previous years, the report includes insights on the gig economy, including who participates in gig work, what kinds of gig activities people engage in, and how gig work serves as a source of income. Findings are from over 11,000 adults surveyed in November 2020 to measure aspects of economic well-being and financial life in the United States.

Due to the effects of the pandemic, 2020 saw record high levels of unemployment across all major industries in every state in the U.S. Despite reports of the gig economy serving as a source of income for those who lost jobs, the percentage of adults who engaged in part-time or full-time gig work actually decreased by 4 percentage points in 2020, compared to 2019 SHED findings. During the year of the pandemic,  27 percent of adults surveyed spent a few hours a month engaging in gig work, while just 8 percent engaged in “full-time” gig work (more than 20 hours a month).

A number of reasons could account for this trend, such as concerns over physical proximity required of certain gig activities, time constraints due to increased care responsibilities, or declines in labor demand for certain sectors of gig work. SHED data on earnings and hours in the gig economy suggest that some gigs dried up while others provided new opportunities during the pandemic, mirroring the broader labor market. Thirty percent of gig workers reported that they earned less money from and spent less time on gig work in the last month, compared to findings from the year prior. On the other hand, 25 percent of workers said they were earning more money and spending more time on gig work during the same timeframe. Like the rest of the economy, the gig economy experienced worsened inequalities among workers.

In 2020, digital gig economy platform companies made frequent headlines as the battle over Prop 22 raged in California. Despite the spotlight on gig work mediated by tech companies like Uber and Lyft, the majority of gig work reflected in SHED was performed off of digital platforms in 2020. Out of all full- and part-time gig workers surveyed, only 14 percent reported having used apps or online platforms to find customers or receive payments for gig work.

A breakdown of the survey results by type of activity demonstrates the variety of the kinds of work gig work can comprise. Sixteen percent of all adults surveyed reported performing service-based gig work, and just two percent of the population engaged in driving or ride-sharing with apps like Uber or Lyft. Other service activities included house cleaning, yard work, or property maintenance; childcare or eldercare services; renting out property; and dog walking, feeding pets, or house-sitting. In addition, 13 percent of those surveyed reported engaging in gig work through sales-based activities. Respondents sold goods online, as well as in flea markets, consignment shops, and other planned events.

Though the 2020 SHED is one of the first major surveys to report on gig activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, a more comprehensive picture of the state of the gig economy will emerge as further data is released.

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