Jobless Ranks May Be Inflated by Millions of Gig Workers

By | November 16, 2018

The hardest people to pin down in America’s labor market may be the gig workers: How many hours do they put in, where, and just how many are out there?

The Labor Department, in a report Wednesday, said there are a lot more than thought: at least 657,000 and as many as 4.6 million more people earning income but not counted as employed, according to an analysis of data spanning 2012 to 2016. Their labor — which includes babysitting, basket weaving, and listing items online for sale — if counted as jobs, would increase total employment by between 0.4 percent and 3 percent.

That means the labor market is potentially tighter than the current 48-year low in unemployment indicates. It also may be more precarious: Gig workers — who include independent contractors, on-call workers and those working for third-party contractors — tend to lack the stability offered by employer-provided health insurance or retirement plans.

The Labor Department calculated the figures by looking beyond the Current Population Survey — which produces the monthly unemployment rate — to the American Time Use Survey, which asks more broadly about activities a person does for pay. That might capture more people who don’t consider such activities to be “work” or a “job.”

Women constitute about two-thirds of those misclassified as jobless, and almost half of the people are 15 to 24 years old, according to the report.

The Labor Department also estimated that 413,000 to 2.9 million people are classified as having one job when they could be counted as multiple jobholders because they earn additional income from other activities. That would increase the number of multiple jobholders by as much as 21 percent.

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