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JPMorgan Chase Institute Report Shows Continued Growth in Platform Work

This work is sporadic, supplemental, and concentrated in the transportation sector

The JPMorgan Chase Institute released a new report on the Online Platform Economy today, updating and expanding their work from 2016 that uses bank account records to analyze platform participation and earnings. Their findings, drawn from activity on 128 different platforms, show that participation has continued to grow: in 2018, 1.6 percent of households had earned income on a platform in the past month, up from just 0.3 percent in the first quarter of 2013.

The report identifies four different sectors of the Online Platform Economy: transportation, which includes ridesharing and delivery, non-transport work, selling goods, and leasing assets. Almost all of the growth over the past five years was in the transportation sector, which now makes up more than half of both the number of participants and the total volume of transactions. In addition to tracking growth, today’s report contains key insights into patterns of participation and platform earnings.

Most platform workers are active only sporadically, rather than relying on platform income consistently over the year. Roughly two thirds—almost 60 percent of transportation workers and 70 percent of other workers—were active for three or fewer months per year. During months of participation, though, platform earnings made up an average of 54 percent of income. These data show people cycle in and out of platform work, but when they are active, that work makes a considerable portion of their income.

Earnings in the transportation sector have fallen by half over the past five years, from an average of $1,469 during active months of work in 2013 to $783 in 2017. Since the data only track income flows, and not hours worked, this decrease could be due to fewer hours being worked, lower wages, or, most likely, a combination of these two trends. Earnings from leasing platforms went up by 69 percent, from $1030 per month in 2013 to $1736 in 2017. Earnings in the other sectors remained relatively stable.

The full report contains many additional insights, including additional information on earnings and data on regional and demographic variation. The data come from 38 million payments made on 128 different platforms to 2.3 million Chase checking accounts between October 2012 and March 2018. Because the report draws on administrative data directly from bank accounts, it does not rely on people’s interpretations of survey questions, which can be a source of ambiguity with many findings. However, these findings are not without limitations. They rely only on Chase customers, who are not necessarily representative of the broader population. Without information on costs and hours worked, data on earnings is limited.

Overall, this report shows that while there is continued growth in online platform work, this work is sporadic and supplemental. Platforms do not represent a primary, full-time mode of work for the vast majority of participants. However, people’s intermittent reliance on them shows that they are a central part of many household’s economic lives, and reflect a tendency for people to piece together work arrangements in order to make a living.

The report also shows how innovative data sources can inform our growing understanding of work, and the need for continued examination into the ways in which new technologies impact work. For summaries of existing data sources, be sure to review the Data Sources covered on the Data Hub. Adding further to the knowledge base, later this week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will be publishing its first estimate of electronically mediated work, gathered as part of the 2017 Contingent Worker Supplement, which will further deepen our understanding of role of platforms in today’s labor market.

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