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Uberizing the Workforce

October 10, 2016, 11:35 AM UTC
UBER Cabs Booking Using Mobile App
BENGALURU, INDIA - OCTOBER 01: UBER cabs booking using mobile app on October 01 2015 in Bengaluru, India. (Photo by Hemant Mishra/Mint via Getty Images)
Hemant Mishra—Mint via Getty Images

Good morning.

Before last night’s debate, I jotted down the top economic issues facing the next president, to see how many might be addressed. My list of ten:

1) Macroeconomics/budget deficits/zero interest rates/secular stagnation

2) Rising inequality/unequal opportunity

3) Failing education/training/continuous skills retraining

4) Broken corporate tax system

5) Broken immigration system

6) Crumbling infrastructure

7) Rising regulatory burden on business

8) Jumbled energy/environment policy

9) Slowing global trade/rising nationalism/protectionism

10) Changing nature of work/contingent work force

When the debate was over, education had gotten a passing mention or two, and taxes and healthcare each had their five minutes of fame. But if this were a drinking game, I’d still pass a sobriety test. You can read Tory Newmeyer’s account of the debate here.

Separately, the McKinsey Global Institute is out this morning with a new study on number 10), showing that 20 to 30 percent of the working age population in the U.S. and Europe engage in independent work – defined as work in which they have a high degree of autonomy, get paid by assignment, and have a short-term relationship with their employers.

The McKinsey number is significantly higher than previous studies. But interestingly, only 15% of those independent workers use digital platforms, like Uber, AirBnb or Taskrabbit. That suggests the size of that workforce could grow dramatically as these platforms expand in the years ahead.

The McKinsey research also shows that some 70% of independent workers do so by choice, not by necessity. They like the autonomy that comes with independent work.

The report is the most thorough picture I’ve see of the dramatic changes taking place in the workplace, and raises interesting policy questions for the next president, whoever that may be. You can find the study here.