New Data Shows That the Online Gig Economy Is Much Smaller Than We Thought

Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder.
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Nearly a decade after Uber debuted, the U.S. Department of Labor has started tracking how many Americans make money though it and similar apps. And it turns out we might be overestimating the power of the gig economy.

Last year, roughly 990,000 people logged on to walk dogs with Rover, build IKEA furniture with TaskRabbit, drive for Lyft or Uber or do a number of odd — or not so odd — jobs through dozens of online employers. About 701,000 workers performed other online-based work-from-home jobs like graphic design, data entry or teaching English to Chinese students with sites like VIPKID.

If you look at both categories of work, they account for 1% of the total labor market. That’s peanuts when compared to some previous research.

Specifically, the BLS refers to this new data as electronically-mediated employment (sigh). Despite the bureaucratic jargon, it does dig deeper into what most folks consider the gig economy than a similar report the BLS released on contingent employment earlier this year.

And here’s another gig-economy myth these new numbers call into question: that these are just side hustles to make a little extra cash.

More than 1.1 million workers do this type of work full time. Only 26% of those who did electronically-mediated work did so as a second job or for some extra cash during the week.

The Penny Hoarder is currently analyzing the underlying survey data for an even deeper look at the gig economy, but there are some things we’ve already learned.

About half of those working electronically-mediated jobs have a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is nine percentage points greater than the economy as a whole.

And black workers accounted for 17% of the online gig economy, which is greater than their 12% of the overall labor market.

There are still questions about the gig economy’s slice of the U.S. labor market. And now that the government is finally tracking it, we might get those answers soon.

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.