CEPR Co-Director Eileen Appelbaum took part in a recent panel discussion on the Future of Work. This is a Q&A prepared for the event.
What are the most important takeaways from the new CWS data?
In February 2005, 7.4 percent of workers were independent contractors. In the new CWS data for 2017, this has decreased to 6.9 percent — about what it was in 2001. Gig economy workers are a subset of these workers — so the decline in the share of independent contractors was a surprise to many pundits. But other studies have shown that gig workers are less than 1 percent of the US labor force.
The low share of independent contractors is not surprising to economists who follow these issues. Independent contractors are about 60 percent of self-employed workers. Regularly published data on self-employed workers show that this category has hardly increased since 2005.
This doesn’t mean that nothing has changed since 2005. For example, the number of independent contractors in transportation has increased by about 250,000 — probably due to Uber, Lyft, Via — while those in construction decreased by almost as much. Still, 19.3 percent of construction workers are independent contractors compared with 5.7 percent of transportation workers.
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