FORT WORTH – About a year ago, 60-year-old Johnny Pollard found himself in need of a job — fast.
His longtime employer, a freight trucking company, had gone out of business. Pollard worried about interviewing for jobs because of his age, so instead he decided to try freelancing as a driver for Uber. And now, he is one of the shining stars at the ride-hailing company, grossing $1,200 to $1,800 per week giving customers rides all over the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
“Uber saved me from unemployment,” the Haltom City resident said. “It has given me an opportunity to keep making a little money, and continue contributing to the community.”
Freelancing — as opposed to working full-time for a single employer — has become increasingly common in the United States job market, and if current trends continue, soon might become more of a norm than an exception.
Already, more than a third of the United States’ workforce (57.3 million people) is working for employers on a freelance basis, an increase of nearly 30 percent from a year earlier, according to a report titled “Freelancing in America: 2017.” The fourth annual report by Upwork and Freelancers Union predicts that by 2027, a majority of the U.S. workforce will be engaged in contractual work of some kind.
Companies such as Uber, its growing competitor Lyft, and Amazon are among the industry leaders in hiring freelance workers in the “on-demand economy,” sometimes referred to as the “gig economy,” or “sharing economy.” Amazon Flex, for example, employs hundreds of workers who deliver packages to customers’ homes in selected markets.
And there are many others. HomeAdvisor connects property owners to screened contractors who can do home improvements. Airbnb has turned the hotel industry on its ear by connecting travelers directly with rooms for rent in the cities of their choice.
Some drivers reportedly work for two, three or even four of these on-demand companies simultaneously, juggling their schedules to ensure they earn enough to make ends meet. In some cases, the jobs are ideal part-time work for college students, or for employees who need to moonlight from their day job.
But is this seismic shift in the American workplace good for workers?
The trend is mostly positive for those — like Pollard — who place a high value on being your own boss, setting your own hours and hustling enough to earn more money than less-motivated colleagues.
But others who closely follow labor trends say these changes could come at a high price.
Pollard starts work each day about 4 or 4:15 a.m. and works until about 4:30 or 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and usually a few hours each Saturday as well, to ensure he makes enough money to pay all his bills. He spends about $1,500 a month just on gas, and also must make the monthly payment on his 2017 Ford Explorer. He also pays car and health insurance, which he got through the Affordable Care Act.
Some labor trend watchers say people in those jobs could be hurt by not having a brick-and-mortar workplace. They lack the protection of workers’ rights. They often lack health care and other benefits. They could become unemployed without benefits if they are injured. And they could become socially isolated by the lack of workplace camaraderie.