Oct 5, 2019

The two-faced freelance economy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some freelancers can pull in more than $100 an hour for management consulting, programming or graphic design. Others struggle to make much more than $10 an hour, beholden to "gig work" platforms like Uber or TaskRabbit.

Why it matters: Being one's own boss, with the flexibility it brings, can be lucrative for people who can differentiate themselves from competitors. For the rest, it can be quicksand.

The big picture: Freelance work makes up nearly 5% of U.S. GDP, according to a new study commissioned by Upwork, a site for high-earning freelancers to find jobs. And more people than ever — 28.5 million people, or half the freelance workforce — say it's a long-term plan.

  • Freelancers who are "significantly better than average" at their jobs tend to do well, says Stephane Kasriel, Upwork's CEO. "Stronger pros can really dictate their terms."
  • Gig work apps capitalized on this dream to attract millions to their platforms: Work whenever you want to make some spending money on the side, they promised.

But for those without a rare or standout skill, reality hasn't quite panned out that way.

  • "People turn to this work, but it's not as lucrative as they think it's going to be," says Alexandrea Ravenelle, a UNC professor who interviewed dozens of workers for her recent book, "Hustle and Gig."
  • "I'm finding a considerable number of workers end up turning to gig work, they think, for the short term — and they're still doing it 4 years later," Ravenelle says. There's no time to network or send out resumes when you're spending every working moment hunting for the next job.

The bottom line: "Given that being in the traditional workforce typically comes with benefits and protections, I think most workers would be better off being there rather than having to constantly hustle for the next gig," says Ravenelle.

Go deeper

The best cities for America's freelancers

Data: Neighborhoods.com; Chart: Axios Visuals

Spokane, Washington, is the best city for freelancers with a relatively low cost of rent and adequate internet service, according to a new study from Neighborhoods.com

Why it matters: The 56.7 million Americans who work as freelancers often don't work in a traditional office setting, so being in a city that has sufficient internet service and is easy to navigate is important. American freelancers contribute about $1 trillion to the economy, per the Freelancers Union.

Go deeperArrowOct 23, 2019

Automating humans with AI

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Most jobs are still out of reach of robots, which lack the dexterity required on an assembly line or the social grace needed on a customer service call. But in some cases, the humans doing this work are themselves being automated as if they were machines.

What's happening: Even the most vigilant supervisor can only watch over a few workers at one time. But now, increasingly cheap AI systems can monitor every employee in a store, at a call center or on a factory floor, flagging their failures in real time and learning from their triumphs to optimize an entire workforce.

Go deeperArrowOct 12, 2019

Big Tech workers call out their companies

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech industry workers create powerful tools that amplify users' voices. Now they're getting vocal about how those tools are used — and employers are wondering whether there's such a thing as too much voice.

Why it matters: Tech workers are often echoing concerns that have already stirred in the rest of society — or are about to do so.

Go deeperArrowOct 29, 2019