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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

More Americans are working than ever before, but a growing number of them aren't 9-to-5 employees, nor skilled freelancers who negotiate their compensation.

Between the lines: Instead they are your Uber driver, your DoorDash food deliverer or your Rover dog-walker.

Why it matters: On-demand jobs have become a central cog in our economic growth engine, providing both entry-level jobs and supplemental incomes. They are to 2019 what fast-food work was to 1989.

  • Uber alone reports 3.9 million global drivers, around one-third of whom are in the U.S.
  • For context, the U.S. added 2.6 million jobs in all of 2018.
  • There isn't broad agreement on how many people are in the on-demand economy, particularly because labor reports often conflate such jobs with more traditional "gig" work like contract graphic design or independent trucking.

But America's new service economy faces similar challenges to its legacy one.

Automation: Companies are racing to develop self-driving cars and delivery robots.

  • It's not too much of an imminent concern, despite Tesla's recent robo-taxi announcement, but many on-demand companies envision someday removing humans from their labor pools.
  • In a decade or two, it's difficult to see most of these jobs still existing.

Wages: On-demand employers face criticism for not paying fair wages and are under the same pressures as traditional services businesses to increase salaries for the lower-paid workers.

On-demand work does differ from traditional service work in some key ways, beyond smartphones and more flexible hours.

  • Lower barriers to entry: There are no job interviews, and a new on-demand worker can sometimes on-board themselves in just a matter of minutes.
  • Less consistent pay: A McDonald's fry jockey knows their per-hour pay and how many hours they'll get per week. A Lyft driver has no guarantees of getting fares, and thus has no guarantees of getting paid.

The bottom line: America's labor ladder has a new bottom rung, an easy first step for unskilled workers and valuable stability for everything above. If it breaks, there might be no other way for millions of workers to rise.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

The gig economy is on the ballot

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Prop 22 is shaping up to be California's most expensive ballot question ever, and its outcome could upend a gig economy business model that's attracted hundreds of billions of investment dollars.

The state of play: Prop 22, supported by such companies as DoorDash and Uber, is favored in most recent polling. But it's no sure bet, due to a large chunk of still undecided voters.

Column / Harder Line

New England power fight foreshadows divisive clean energy future

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It wasn’t his first choice, but Sean Mahoney isn’t fighting a 150-mile proposed power line sending Canadian hydropower to New England as part of the region’s climate-change goals.

Why he matters: Mahoney, a senior expert at the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation who lives in Maine, is seeking to compromise in a bitter battle over the proposal. Expect more fights like this as President Biden and other political leaders pursue zero-carbon economies over the next 30 years.

Mike Allen, author of AM
8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden adviser Cedric Richmond sees first-term progress on reparations

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" that it's "doable" for President Biden to make first-term progress on breaking down barriers for people of color, while Congress studies reparations for slavery.

Why it matters: Biden said on the campaign trail that he supports creation of a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations — direct payments for African-Americans.

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