Employment and Jobs

Gig Economy Data Roundtable Addresses Knowledge Gaps and Opportunities for New Research

February 12, 2018  • Ethan Pollack & Shelly Steward

Better understanding of the size and composition of the gig economy and independent workforce is needed in order to identify policies that can enhance financial security for American workers in a changing economy.

On February 2, the Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative, Cornell University’s ILR School, and the Rockefeller Foundation convened a roundtable of experts to discuss challenges and identify new directions for gig economy data collection. This Gig Economy Data Roundtable brought together nearly 40 leaders at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City, representing a range of institutions, including universities, think tanks, worker advocate organizations, gig economy companies, and foundations.

Senator Mark Warner, Honorary Co-Chair of the Future of Work Initiative, delivered opening remarks about the importance of better data to understand the scope and needs of the independent workforce. Alan Krueger of Princeton University, who also serves on the Future of Work Initiative’s National Advisory Council, presented some of his latest work on data and measurement issues related to independent work, including research on how the wording of survey questions can influence people’s responses, potentially leading to underestimation of the size of the independent workforce. Krueger’s presentation drew from work recently published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Following the presentation, participants engaged in a lively discussion on the state of knowledge of the gig economy and its workers.

One obstacle discussed was the variety of ways gig work can be defined by researchers and survey respondents. Although several surveys of the independent workforce exist, they tend to use different definitions, making it difficult to make comparisons and identify trends. Another area roundtable participants focused on was the need to analyze the segmentation of the independent workforce and the diversity of experiences of gig workers. Large-scale surveys often group many types of independent workers together, which can mask important differences within this population. Looking forward, participants were excited about the potential for collaboration, drawing on the range of expertise and access to populations across public, private, and academic sectors. The conversation at the roundtable barely scratched the surface of these topics, underlining the need for continued conversations and similar events in the future. The upcoming release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2017 Contingent Work Supplement will provide an opportunity for such engagement. The supplement, which examines contingent and alternative work arrangements, is scheduled to be released later this spring, and will be the first release of government data on the topic since 2005.

At the end of the discussion, participants previewed a beta version of the Gig Economy Data Hub, a new website that seeks to consolidate, communicate, and clarify gig economy data. The Future of Work Initiative and Cornell’s ILR School, the partners behind the Data Hub, will incorporate feedback from the roundtable as we prepare for a public launch this spring.

The recent Gig Economy Data Roundtable highlighted the need for innovative and collaborative data collection efforts to understand how work is changing. With better information, policymakers can begin to design policies that reflect the changing ways work is being performed. The Future of Work Initiative is excited to continue its role in fostering dialogue, promoting more and better data, and using it to inform the policymaking process.