June 8, 2018

The Roundup: How big is the gig economy? Plus, work travel risks, and where millennials are moving

Just how big is the gig economy? Find out in this week's Roundup, along with notes on the health risks of work travel, and where millennials are moving.

Latest report on the U.S. gig economy “confounds” economists

For the first time in 13 years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released a report about the size of the gig economy.

According to the report (which provided numbers from May 2017), 5.9 million people (3.8% of workers) held contingent jobs in the U.S. – that is, those jobs that individuals reported as temporary or not expected to last. Added to this are workers who have alternative work arrangements: 10.6 million were independent contractors (6.9% of total employment), and 2.6 million were on-call workers.

Considering the surge of companies that have disrupted and transformed the “traditional” model of working over the past decade, there were some surprising findings in the report. One is that the share of independent contractors in May 2017 (6.9% of total employment) actually decreased from what it was in February 2005 (7.4% of workers), the last time the bureau reported on these statistics.

According to the Washington Post, “The report, released Thursday, confounded economists who had expected that companies like Uber would have much more significantly changed the workforce. The findings suggest that while the nature of work may be changing in certain fields like transportation, there is no dramatic shift away from traditional employment in the economy.”

Or, as the New York Times’ Ben Casselman posits, “You can see the gig economy everywhere but in the statistics.”

The gig economy still exists in a gray area when it comes to regulatory and legislative guidance, and tracking it “is a uniquely difficult task,” as the Washington Post puts it. Further, many publications noted that economists are puzzled by some of the findings.

The NYT suggests that the latest numbers “understate real changes in the nature of work” – that standard tools for measuring employment “[struggle] to capture the shifting employment landscape.”

The report from the BLS also highlights that while the gig economy may not be as big as expected, the idea of what constitutes “gig work” is becoming much broader. And as it broadens and continues to grow, the spotlight will continue to be on defining rights and employment standards, and improving conditions (wages, benefits, training, etc.) for those workers.

The realities of work travel – and what employers can do to help

A new study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, finds that there’s a link between frequency of business travel and a range of physical and behavioral health risks.

One of the study’s authors, Andrew Rundle writes in Harvard Business Review about the common side effects of work travel that affect road warriors:

“Compared to those who spent one to six nights a month away from home for business travel, those who spent 14 or more nights away from home per month had significantly higher body mass index scores and were significantly more likely to report the following: poor self-rated health; clinical symptoms of anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence; no physical activity or exercise; smoking; and trouble sleeping.”

These health risks on employees obviously affect their employers, too – and Rundle suggests that employers need to take a greater responsibility in helping their people develop healthy habits in relation to their jobs.

For road warriors, Rundle and his team suggest “a combination of employee education and improvements in employer policies around travel.” This means helping employees identify healthy food options while traveling, or supporting physical activity by ensuring travel accommodations have gyms. The researchers also suggest providing business travelers with stress management training and techniques.

Looking for millennials? Here’s where they’re moving

Recently, investment site SmartAsset took a closer look at where millennials are moving, using U.S. Census Bureau data.

Topping the list was Washington State, with a net influx of almost 40,000 millennials (around 0.55% of the overall population). Diving deeper and looking at specific cities, Seattle topped the list. According to SmartAsset, “it is not too surprising that millennials are flocking to Seattle, it is one of the best cities for young professionals, and Washington has no income tax.”

It makes sense that the cities that received the greatest influx of millennials are cities that support a young professional’s burgeoning careers and personal growth. The top cities on the list offer a combination of low or no income tax, expanding job opportunities, rising wages and good earning potential for full-time careers, and an affordable cost of living coupled with cultural offerings.

These findings build on a point we covered in a previous Roundup about why job-seekers flock to certain cities. Young workers in particular are attracted not only to salary, but also to new and interesting opportunities to grow both personally and professionally.

Danielle Ng-See-Quan

Dani is the Senior Manager, Content Marketing at Ceridian.

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