The Gig Economy

Excerpt from “The Freelancer’s Essential Guide to Business and Taxes”

The last decade has witnessed an explosion of independent contractors in the US labor force. New personal technologies allow folks to connect with people who need a lift or place to stay for the night, for example. While ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft certainly did not inaugurate the “Gig Economy,” the meteoric rise of these and similar companies mark a fundamental shift in the American economy and its workforce. Freelance work offers flexible hours and the ability to work from home. In exchange, companies shed many of the costs of a full-time employee-health and unemployment insurance, retirement benefits, salaried pay, paid vacations, etc.

The independent contractors that comprise this growing sector of our country’s labor force work in a variety of industries and across all levels of the corporate hierarchy. While ridesharing drivers dominate news headlines, there are also, for example, legions of Ivy-League-educated consultants drawing six-figure salaries working remotely on a per-contract basis throughout the globe. Even within industries, wages and benefits among freelancers vary significantly. For example, a recent study found that the hourly rate of Uber drivers ranges from $15-$53 per hour.

The last decade has witnessed an explosion of independent contractors in the US labor force.

Emerging legal challenges have called into question the legality of how some companies classify and compensate independent contractors. Most notably, Uber is currently appealing a decision issued by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office that established Uber drivers as employees, rather than independent contractors. Should the ruling stand, Uber, which “employs” less than 1,000 people but “contracts” with around 200,000 drivers, could see its overhead rise by an estimated $4.1 billion, annually. Similarly, courts have found several other companies hiring independent contractors liable in a host of other violations including insufficient wages.

As such, attitudes toward the gig economy remain highly ambivalent. For every corporation or contractors praising the flexibility of contract work, the lawsuits of others suggest little more than worker exploitation. And it is undeniable that corporations increasingly turning to contract workers do so first and foremost to increase profit margins.

Despite the emerging challenges to the legality of the manner in which some companies compensate independent contractors, as mentioned above the Gig Economy is undeniably on the rise. Therefore, the purpose of this guide is to help contract workers maximize their opportunities in the Gig Economy and protect their earnings. While some freelancers may very well win classification as full-time employees in the courts, this guide is your safety net, so that if you have to remain a freelancer long-term you can successfully navigate the Gig Economy and make a worthwhile living.