Media attention finally seems to be recognizing the social and economic effects of unequal distribution of wealth. As this plays out, we need to address one of the trends fueling this inequality: the “gig economy”. Maybe I’m just biased because I come from the generation following the Baby Boomers. Each recession since the early 1980s I’ve been outsourced, downsized, right-sized, laid off, let go or otherwise made redundant. I’ve worked 18 of the potential 30 years I could have been since I entered the workforce. The rest of the time was spent getting an education, raising a family, preparing for and changing careers to adjust to changing market demands, and being unemployed. This doesn’t include the years of being underemployed or working at temp agencies as a receptionist. Basically doing everything that wasn’t illegal or immoral so I could survive and raise my kids. For me, it’s always been about survival. Until my kids started leaving home, I’d taken one vacation as an adult.
I don’t know why I’ve been unable to secure permanent, secure employment. I blame myself and my love of working in high tech. Maybe I’m a poor employee. Maybe I have a bad attitude. Maybe I’m not competent. At the same time, the things I’ve been able to accomplish during the periods where I am employed demonstrate that I’m an intelligent, hard-working, competent, balanced person who contributes my experience and expertise willingly.
To articulate that this reality both frightens me and makes me angry as I watch others prepare for retirement after working straight through these years is an understatement. The chilling reality is that I am not the only one who has been affected by these repeated economic crises. Statistics show that this generation is the most in debt and least likely to completely retire so far. They also show that the majority of workers are “precariously employed”, another euphemism for “contract” workers, aka “consultants”. What this means are a significant number of people hustling for their next “gig” or “contract”, which means even more competition. That at a certain point, these opportunities will dry up.
Contractors are the peasant workers of the 2010s. Employers have several benefits from this arrangements from by being able to hire and blamelessly fire highly motivated workers willing to trade their services (skills and talents) for cash to significant financial benefits. They do not need to provide benefits in the form of medical or pension plans. They do not need to provide notice. They do not need to bear the human cost. Because ultimately it is about greed. The bottom line is more important than ensuring other people can have a reasonable quality of life or any kind of quality of life. This isn’t their problem.
Instead we will be society’s burden when we cannot work or find employment any more.