Tech4America’s Future of Work Initiative regularly brings together stakeholders from labor, technology, and government to better understand and adapt to the way work is changing, especially when technology creates problems or opportunities. When doing this work, we prioritize partnerships and pilots between public officials and Silicon Valley companies.
In the Fall of 2018, T4A launched two tech-related economic projects that impact cities. First, we are running pilots to determine how cash wage subsidies for workers (similar to a local Earned Income Tax Credit) can improve income and economic security. Second, we are testing how to provide free skills training to freelancing gig workers so that they can move up to more lucrative jobs. Greg Ferenstein serves as project manager < firstname.lastname@example.org >.
What This is All About: Flexible Work, Additional Income
American workers face a tectonic transformation in the labor market that could provide more opportunity for flexibility, independence, and additional income. Rather than artificially chaining oneself to a single 9-5 employer, flexible “gig” workers can spend time with family while contributing their varied skills to a variety of employers at whatever time of day they find best.
Tech4America is exploring policy and technological solutions for worker rights and benefits in the 21st century economy, especially for independent contractors. We examine how problems of wage decline, abbreviated worker voice in company decisions, and increasingly limited employment benefits can be solved while allowing gig economy companies to continually innovate and maintain their access to American workers.
We pay special attention to the unique way that Silicon Valley can uniquely contribute by exploring how information technologies can benefit workers, including:
- Lowering the Barriers. Digital tools that allow traditional workers to easily become self-employed, find benefits, and pay taxes. These tools would significantly decrease the acquisition cost for employers, increase the supply of workers, and help workers themselves supplement their income.
- Wages. Higher pay for self-employed, part-time, and temp workers through software that allows workers to easily find the highest paying work at any given moment.
- Worker Voices. Tools that aggregate and amplify worker voice in company decisions.
- Education. Online educational tools for gig workers.
Innovation Means Change. And Change is Hard.
Penn State economist Stephen Goatz finds that increasing “self-employment has tangible positive economic impacts not only on wage and salary employment but also on per capita income growth and poverty reduction.”
Of course, a growing and more flexible gig economy has downsides, too. Self-employment, temporary work, and part-time work pose risks to individuals because most advanced economies tie worker protections and benefits to a single job or industry. When one leaves an employer, benefits and job security often stay behind.
Anticipating threats to their constituents, many unions, city governments, and industry associations have raised objections, often going to court or passing laws whose purported purpose is to protect workers from the threat of a less-secure labor market.
Getting Ahead of the Challenges.
The tech sector and other employers in particular need to get ahead of the challenges — and capture the opportunities — that the gig economy brings. This means working with innovative policymakers and public officials to address workers rights and benefits faster than they disrupt the labor market.
Economic growth must be aligned with economic security.
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