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The ups and downs of the gig economy, 2015-2017

A variety of researchers and public entities have estimated the prevalence of nontraditional work arrangements, using diverse definitions, in recent decades, and the topic has received increasing attention in the past five years. Despite numerous media reports that the prevalence of nonstandard work has increased since the Great Recession, not all sources agree on this point, and very little evidence exists relating to hours or earnings from such arrangements and their changes over time. Using unique data from the Survey of Informal Work Participation (SIWP), we describe changes in informal work activity across 2015, 2016, and 2017 along multiple dimensions and for a variety of specific jobs. Considering the net changes observed between 2015 and 2017, we find that participation rates and earnings were mostly flat across the period, while average hours for gig workers declined by economically and statistically significant margins. The aggregate number of full-time equivalent jobs embodied in informal work, a measure combining participation rates and hours, also declined by an economically significant margin between 2015 and 2017. A major exception to these trends is that average ridesharing hours more than quadrupled between 2015 and 2017. We find some evidence that the recent declines in informal work hours represented a response to declining unemployment rates, but during this time period there also appears to have been upward structural pressure on gig work that provided a particular boost to platform-based work.