The Rise and Rise of the Gig Economy in a Post-Pandemic World

12 Jun 2024

Now that the mitigation measures of COVID-19 have made a deep stamp upon the global economy, many who were laid off or lost businesses during the various lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 are starting to renew their economic earnings through what is euphemistically called the “gig economy,” a term that grown in popularity over the past decade. Still, this term has taken on new proportions in the post-pandemic United States.

Now, freelancing jobs offered through apps like Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Deliveroo, and many other app-based services, are being taken on by former professionals

During the Covid pandemic, newer, digital-first work platforms like Uber Eats surged in popularity as millions were forced to shelter at home. Those who could afford it turned to online delivery apps.

Scientific data indicates that the number of people working with these platforms has grown, too. “The Evolution of Platform Gig Work, 2012-2021” published by the University of Chicago in May 2023, tracked the earnings of gig workers through tax filings. What this study uncovered was that the number of people who report income from platform-based gig work to the IRS has exploded in recent years from just over one million to nearly five million workers.

Aside from being a clear indication of just how many more people use tech platforms to help earn a living, this demonstrates how the gig economy is rising in popularity even for the convenience of those who prefer to work part-time or a specific schedule in order to take on other caregiving roles at home.

But the gig economy is not limited to working-class delivery jobs. There has been a longstanding gig economy among the educated for decades within higher education—namely that of adjunct faculty. These professors are often graduate students working on their PhD, but even today, more and more are PhDs with no hope for full-time employment in sight.

Adjunct faculty are not only paid a small amount compared to the tenure-track cohorts, but they lack job security, benefits, and even—depending on the institution—health insurance and sick leave.

While evidence abounds as to how the global pandemic pushed the gig economy into popularity, even by its previous critics, the necessity of survival was likely the incentive to enter into this job market. With no possibility of leaving the house for millions, online platforms became the obvious solution, to include the class of people who decided to enter online trading from their homes.

The impact of COVID-19 on global economies made a dent even among the middle classes that were willing to take marked investment risks from their sofas where Forex trading and myriad investment platforms became the focus for a number of working populations—especially the younger generations with savings, yet ample time to participate in the share and currency markets.

What is surprising about the post-pandemic gig economy is not so much its enduring popularity, but how these jobs have alerted workers far beyond the gig theatre, that perhaps they too ought to have a greater say in their working hours, the ability to care for children and elderly relatives, and most of all, it has set off a larger conversation about the four-day work week, something currently under experimentation in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the United Kingdom, among many countries.

Perhaps the gig economy’s greatest legacy might actually be that it reshapes the landscape of labor rights—from the blue to the white-collar workers—across the planet.