A growing number of gig workers now earn six-figure incomes

Dive Brief:

  • The share of full-time gig economy workers earning more than $100,000 a year grew 4.9% in the past year — an all-time high — reports Bloomberg.  The results of an annual survey by MBO Partners, Inc. showed that these high-income earners now make up 3.2 million of the 16.2 million independent contractors, freelancers, consultants and on-call workers in the U.S.
  • The survey results also found that, while the percentage of independent six-figure wage earners is up by 60% over 2011 figures, the number of full-time, self-employed workers fell by 700,000 this year.
  • Gig workers' wage gains are due in part to increased demand for workers with specialized skills in engineering and IT on a project-by-project basis, MBO Partners' founder and CEO Gene Zaino told Bloomberg.

Dive Insight:

At this point, the data could not be any clearer, but we'll say it louder for those in the back: The gig economy is rapidly growing. One projection puts the total number of U.S. gig workers in 2021 at a staggering 10 million.

Obviously, MBO Partners' study includes far more workers than what some might initially place under the umbrella of gig work — they're not just Uber and Lyft drivers. The results are still useful, however, especially given lawsuits over misclassification of independent contractors during the past 12 months. Incidentally, drivers have been increasingly at the center of that litigation, including those at Amazon, Uber and United Van Lines.

That so many gig workers have broken the six-figure mark may seem surprising to gig economy skeptics. Similar research from MBO Partners showed that the majority of gig workers have chosen their employment style of their own accord, and not due to lacking full-time opportunities. This conclusion seems more plausible given pay statistics.

Still, those making top dollar are a very small, albeit growing, minority. Gig workers still struggle to earn the perks of full-time employment, including unemployment benefits. A sizeable share also reportedly have trouble receiving their paychecks on time, and others have seen their pay rates miscalculated. What's more, only a few gig employers have even experimented with expanded benefits offerings.

A big takeaway: The picture of gig economy work is not entirely rosy for either employees or employers. Legal problems have prevented the paradigm from completely shifting away from full-time work; some gig employers tout the benefits of full-time workers and anticipate hiring more of them.

Expect increased activity from U.S. courts as this segment of the workforce grows. HR leaders should be up front with worker classification especially, developing clear policy around what independent contractors receive — and don't — as part of their compensation package.

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Filed Under: Comp & Benefits