MIAMI – Tiffany Zadi creates leather shoulder bags, totes, accessories and jewelry. While trolling thrift shops for materials she'll recycle for her fashions, she'll snatch up vintage finds and resell them through Etsy. The Little Havana resident also teaches piano to several students, and lately she's been leading handicraft "experiences" for small groups through Airbnb.
Joseph Nay builds and designs websites, including steady work for a content studio and a digital marketing agency. That's led to other freelance jobs. The largely self-taught Hollywood resident also creates and edits motion graphics and assists a nonprofit focused on helping Haiti. "It's been a fun ride, tiring but fun," he said.
Zadi and Nay use their skills, experience and passions in a diverse portfolio of work assignments and revenue streams to thrive in the gig economy, a fast-growing worker movement that includes consulting and contracting, temping, freelancing, self-employment, side gigs and on-demand workers. While Zadi and Nay enthusiastically jumped into the gig economy — Zadi gave up a law career to pursue her passions — others are thrust into it by necessity, as full-time jobs have slipped away. Some want the supplemental income as wages remain stagnant, while still others use it as a buffer as they ease into retirement.
Experts differ on exactly how large the gig economy is — these jobs don't fit neatly into categories the government tracks — as well as on the pluses and drawbacks for workers and the economy. But there is consensus that the gig economy is growing faster than traditional employment.
A 2016 McKinsey Global Institute Report found that about 27 percent of working-age people in the United States and Europe engage at least partially in independent work. A 2016 study by the Minneapolis Fed found a 37 percent engagement rate in the U.S., while government economists have estimated that about 40 percent of Americans will be working outside traditional full-time jobs by 2020.
"There's this myth that the gig economy equals Uber driver," said Diane Mulcahy, who recently wrote a book on the subject. "If you are not a full-time employee in a full-time job, you are part of the gig economy."
While gig workers have been around as long as there have been handymen, tutors, writers and musicians, what's new about the gig economy is how quickly it has infiltrated white-collar professions and industries such as health care, finance, the law and technology, Mulcahy said. As proof, she said, look at the growth of national online placement services like Toptal for tech and finance workers and Axiom for lawyers.
Just before and during the most recent recession came the launch of several key tech-enabled online services, including ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, Airbnb for lodging, and websites helping consumers find people to teach, write, serve or fix something for them. Other websites popped up to pool contract workers.
But there is no steady paycheck, no health insurance, no sick pay, and no vacation pay. What happens when there's too much month left at the end of your money?
Gig workers should aim to create a financially flexible life of lower fixed costs, higher savings and much less debt. And access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act has enabled more people to work in the gig economy.