A whole new crop of UNC seniors will graduate on May 14. Some will enter graduate school and others full-time employment or internships. Others will enter the giant “gig economy,” working in short spurts as independent contractors.
While taking advantage of the flexibility and financial opportunities this sort of work provides, these Tar Heels should also be open to the idea of organizing with other freelancers to prevent poor working conditions and build social ties.
When we talk about the gig economy, we don’t just mean driving for Uber on the weekends. According to an October 2016 report from the McKinsey Global Institute, the independent workforce in the United States and Europe makes up about 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population. Almost half of this group of independent workers does so as their primary source of income.
Contracted work provides wonderful flexibility for the contractor, who can choose where and when to work — and it shows huge potential to boost global economic efficiency. Unfortunately, it also has significant potential to be abused. Unscrupulous clients looking to outsource digital work can offer pitifully low wages, knowing an army of other freelancers may be willing to do the job for less.
Just as importantly, freelancing full-time can isolate the worker in a way that traditional jobs tend not to. As one South African freelancer put it, “When you work at a company you can just have coffee with someone. That element is missing.”