The Gig Economy, Odd Jobs with a Cool Name
by Dwayne Phillips
Nothing new under the sun. The gig economy meanders, and some persons get by.
I’ve been mulling this post for a while. As a coincidence, the New Yorker is running a piece on this. When I was in high school, way back in the last century, in rural Louisiana, I knew persons who lived on the gig economy. They, however, didn’t have such a cool name for their lifestyle. They, instead, worked “odd jobs.” They painted houses, mowed lawns (wasn’t called “landscaping”), fixed plumbing, fixed washers and dryers, installed garage doors, and so on.
They didn’t advertise and weren’t part of TaskRabbit or Amazon Turk or something else. They got jobs by what we used to call “word of mouth.” “Mabel had John fix her back porch. Give him a call about your busted screen door.”
The men who worked odd jobs didn’t have any “paid days off,” what we call today “benefits.” They didn’t have health insurance. They went to the doctor, the doctor gave them a reasonable bill, i.e., a bill the doctor knew they could and would pay, and they paid it. Retirement came when their kids were “out on their own.” (I realize I am using a lot of phrases in quotes in this post, but I came to realize that we don’t use these phrases anymore.)
Career? No, not really. A life? Yes, they made a life of it.
On a recent walk across rural America, I found that the odd job, er, uh, the gig economy, is still alive, and maybe reasonably well. Walk slowly through rural America and see “lawns gardening income taxes plumbing tanning salon” all on one sign, and the people who live in the house behind the sign actually do all those things well at prices that the community can afford.
Hence, there is nothing new under the sun. Those who live on odd jobs still exist. I find one of the troubles with those who gig odd jobs (GOJ, let’s start a new acronym) today have $100,000 in college debt. Someone told them that a master’s in art history with an emphasis on English literature of the early 20th century would bring a good job. Too bad.