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Nearly half of Americans have a side gig, and it's changing everything we know about work

As many workers use side jobs to supplement their income, these same gigs are changing the future of work.

Uber and Lyft drivers, with signs on their vehicles supporting better wages, cross the Brooklyn Bridge in a caravan of about 25 vehicles, Wednesday, May 8, 2019 in New York. The protests arrive just ahead of Uber's initial public stock offering, which is
Uber and Lyft drivers, with signs on their vehicles supporting better wages, cross the Brooklyn Bridge in a caravan of about 25 vehicles, Wednesday, May 8, 2019 in New York. The protests arrive just ahead of Uber's initial public stock offering, which is planned for Friday. Nearly half of Americans have a side gig, including driving for Uber or Lyft.
Mark Lennihan, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 1 in 3 working Americans with a side job say they can’t make ends meet without the extra income, according to a recent survey from Bankrate.

Almost half of workers report having a side hustle in addition to their primary job, and while most say they put the money toward extra spending or savings, the report says a significant reason for additional jobs is that living expenses are rising higher than incomes.

Millennials are most likely to have a side gig, and about 40 percent of this group say it amounts to at least half of their monthly income.

Side jobs are part of a larger phenomenon known as the gig economy, which can include anything from driving for Lyft on the way to the office or taking on freelance projects either full time or part time. It also coincides with the trend of remote work, and experts say that together, these changes are reshaping the future of work in ways that might benefit some who have second jobs, but could also make it harder to get or keep a full-time job.

Gig work “is just one element in an emerging ecosystem that includes other evolving forms of work — such as temping, contracting and self-employment — along with a variety of support services," a global survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group Henderson Institute found.

"The result is profound change in the way companies hire, train, reward and manage employees" — with the eventual impact on workplaces and the overall economy still unfolding.

Remote work

The ability to work anytime, anywhere has made side jobs easier than ever to hold, changing both part-time and full-time work.

Machine learning and other technological advancements have made the trend of working remotely become part of the way firms do business today, says Richard Baldwin, economics professor at the Graduate Institute in Geneva in his book "The Globotics Upheaval."

Because remote work is now an acceptable practice, Baldwin says, many businesses will eventually find it more cost effective to relocate some jobs to places where it can get workers with similar skills for less pay — like today’s outsourcing of many U.S. credit card call centers to overseas, for example.

In other words, remote work means workers no longer have to live where their job is.

And despite the effect this practice can have on company culture when these workers fail to create meaningful workplace connections and become less engaged, many firms find the financial benefits outweigh these costs.

For example, using remote workers allowed insurance powerhouse Aetna to drop 2.7 million square feet of office space and save $78 million per year, according to Forbes.

Freelancing

More organizations have begun to rely on freelancing to decrease overhead costs, and emerging online services now help facilitate the most cost-effective freelancer solutions for employers, said Baldwin to the Wall Street Journal.

These freelancers could reside anywhere in the globe, says Baldwin, allowing companies to do less local hiring and instead maintain long-term positions that can be filled remotely by part-time freelancers.

The benefits of freelance workers are real as companies cite the ability to hire content experts, employees who will work on holidays and workers who will stay onboard with firms, says Boss Magazine.

Additionally, the connections freelancers can offer at a fraction of the price are further elements businesses find attractive.

Turning a gig into a full-time job

Gig work jeopardizes the worker protections of traditional jobs — everything from safety to guaranteed hours — and make it difficult for workers to build a career.

There are complications, for example, for part-time workers who want to turn their gigs into full-time positions, as illustrated by Uber and Lyft, two ridesharing services that have become the face of the gig economy.

Earlier this year, Lyft and Uber drivers organized a strike timed with Uber’s initial public offering. Drivers argued that the companies profit from the employees without providing them the benefits for working full-time hours, according to NBC News.

“Well, you know, the gig economy, whether it’s Uber, Lyft, or Handy or TaskRabbit, any time workers have demanded a decent pay and livable incomes and job security — dignified work — they’ve responded by saying, ‘Well, this isn’t supposed to be full time. This is part time,’” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director and co-founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, in an interview with Democracy Now.

Desai continues: “Uber has gone as far as to say, ‘By part time, we mean just a couple hours here and there each week.’ Every time we raise the bar to just get to the floor of basic employment protections … they lower the expectation of what this is actually supposed to be. When they lobby, they call it a job. Once they get the drivers in, they call it a gig.”

Gig benefits

While some companies fight to make gig work remain a side job, workers who cobble together enough various gigs to make a living can have a more beneficial situation than their full-time counterparts, suggests Forbes. Things like a broad client base, no layoff threat and no salary-related restrictions are pluses for some gig workers that could encourage potential employees to reconsider a full-time position.

Other studies suggest that the gig economy can be a boon for both full-time employees and side-job workers. Changes in the way companies manage employees can be good for all kinds of workers as they generate new opportunities “in traditional labor markets and at companies” as well as cause “overall adaptiveness in the employment system,” according to the Boston Consulting Group Henderson Institute survey.

Despite the inevitable evolutions that happen to systems over time, labor economists report that the gig economy isn’t growing quite as rapidly as predicted in part because many gig workers only take on side jobs as a temporary solution, and they don’t seek them consistently.

In other words, as the Atlantic reports: “The gig economy … provide(s) a lot of work but not a lot of jobs.” And for the post-Great Recession U.S. worker, full-time jobs continue to matter.

“Like, for me, I was using (gig work) as kind of a crutch to get to the next thing,” said Andy Carroll, 37, to NPR. “And here I am in a 9-to-5, and I’m still using it to supplement income here and there.”

Whether to pay the bills for living expenses or the bills for extras, side gigs are giving workers financial advantages they aren’t getting from their full-time jobs.

“Because millennials experienced the Great Recession and saw their parents going through it, they probably are more aware than other generations about the importance of having a financial safety net,” Alexandrea Ravenelle, assistant professor at Mercy College, told Bankrate.

“(E)ven though incomes are finally back to where they were before the Great Recession, there’s still a perception for a lot of people that their income is just not hitting their expenses. Even if incomes are going up, expenses seem to be going up even faster.”