Whatever your take, the gig economy has certainly enjoyed a lot of press. In fact, the attention has been a lot more positive among the media than the people who actually work for the Ubers and Lyfts and GrubHubs and Postmates and TaskRabbits. Some (often those working at one of the platform companies that match service providers and consumers) have proclaimed that the gig economy could "save" the American worker.
All the attention has created a possibly over-sized sense of how broadly workers have entered the fray. There have been some estimates of the popularity of the platforms among workers, based on surveys. Now the Treasury department has an analysis based on administrative tax records It's the most complete set of data available, with a random sampling offering an excellent chance of providing a representative look.
The result is that the gig economy is quite modest in size. The researchers looked at a number of factors from tax filings in 2014, including whether people had filed Schedule C or Schedule SE forms in their taxes (small business and Social Security payments, for those who haven't filled them out often). They could see if people worked primarily for themselves, on the side in addition to employment, or not at all.
The analysis tried to draw conclusions about self-employed people and small business owners in general, but gig economy workers formed one of the groups they found. And it turns out, relatively few workers, as a percentage of all, are involved. The number in 2014 was 109,700 individuals, or 0.7 percent of all workers. The researchers noted that this was likely something of an undercount. Some gig workers may not have filed taxes for that part of their income. Many of the platforms use digital payment systems that effectively create loopholes for filing 1099 statements for workers. If the workers don't get paid 200 times or make more than $20,000 through the payment system, there's no 1099 legally required.
Still, double the amount and it remains a tiny percentage -- maybe even a few hundred thousand workers. Of those that performed gig-type work, about a third had made the gig work a primary part of their earnings. Another 39 percent were primarily wage earners doing the gig work on the side, while 19.5 percent relied on a mix of employment and gig platform participation.