By Sharon Block

The on-demand or “gig” economy gets a lot of buzz. And for good reason: It’s an exciting, tech-driven, entrepreneurial development that has tapped into significant consumer demand. It offers new ways for people to monetize their existing assets − their car, their extra bedroom − and earn a living.

It also raises important questions about basic labor protections and the shift of risk onto workers from employers − risk of injury or liability or rapidly fluctuating demand.

For the last year and a half, we at the Department of Labor have been engaging with business leaders, workers and others in this dynamic sector of the economy to better understand it and to inform how the department does its work to protect and serve American workers.

But we have also emphasized that the on-demand economy is part of a much larger trend in the relationship between workers and businesses. Over the last few decades, more and more stable employment relationships have given way to something more arms-length − from contract work to temporary employment, to one-off gigs. In many ways, the challenges and opportunities of the on-demand economy mirror those of the larger trend.

One of the challenges we’ve faced as policy makers in addressing these shifts in the labor market has been a lack of current, reliable data. We have taken an important step toward a more detailed picture with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ commitment to run the Contingent Worker Survey next year for the first time since 2005. But we’re also engaging with others who are bringing much needed data to the table.

This month, we hosted a pair of forums that both deepened our understanding of the on-demand economy and brought into sharp relief the much larger trends in play. On June 7, Marina Gorbis, Devin Fidler and Rod Falcon from the Institute for the Future came to the Labor Department for a policy forum on the on-demand economy, where they presented their research comprising detailed interviews with on-demand workers. And on June 10, professors Alan Krueger from Princeton and Larry Katz from Harvard gave a seminar on their recent research regarding the prevalence of alternative work arrangements in the labor market.

Large and Growing Trend Toward Alternative Work Arrangements

Krueger and Katz are both former chief economists here at the Department, and Krueger served as chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers earlier in the administration. Both are leaders in the world of labor economics, and their research on alternative work arrangements is among the most authoritative recent work available on the subject.

Their research shows that the trend toward more arms-length work arrangements is...Click here to read the rest of the blog post.