This past year, I began working with a start-up company on a big idea that required more and more of my attention. As the work ratcheted up, I was swamped with stuff to do. My other consulting services needed to be dialed down.

Unfortunately, the start-up company hit a snag. I am now looking for more freelance work to fill the open spots on my calendar. I can do all of this because I’m a woman who has built a successful business and has a little money in the bank. I have no kids and a husband with a regular job who provides our health insurance.

I’m built for the gig economy.

For everybody else in America, the gig economy is a lie.

I could probably make this lifestyle work if I had no partner and a bunch of kids, but why would I? That’s insane. Without guaranteed private medical insurance and a stable bank of PTO, I would have to spend all of my free time hunting for my next gig and chasing down unpaid invoices while simultaneously meeting the needs of my family.

And I’m not exaggerating how hard it is to run a business in America. While you get paid every two weeks and complain about your work-life balance, I get paid net 30 (on a good day) and 50% of whatever I earn goes to cover all the federal, state and local taxes.

But I can float the ambiguity and the taxes because of the inherent privilege in my lifestyle, the small footprint we keep in this world, and the fact that I have a spouse who won’t let me starve.

There are still consultants and speakers out there who talk about the future of work as if it’s a gig economy. Those people are idiots. Workers aren’t paid enough to participate in the gig economy. It’s often cheaper to drop out of the labor pool and let the robots swoop in and do the work. We’ll figure out other ways to thrive.

The gig economy could work if we offered protections such as universal healthcare, free college and a basic income that allows our citizens to pursue an education that meets with their natural abilities. In that way, you’re rewarded for following your passion and interests. If you’re contributing to the world, you’re not penalized for being an artist instead of a programmer.

But as long as we think about employment in 20th-century terms — worker, boss, supervisor, founder, owner, salaries, income taxes, invoices, payment terms — we’ll never get to the point where we can create an economy that grants individuals the freedom to move from gig to gig and contribute to our society in productive and effective ways.

The gig economy is a lie. It’s a myth. At its best, it’s a band-aid for privileged people like me. At its worst, it’s a stupid idea that will continue to create a bankrupt class of contingent workers who can barely afford to work.

And it’s not good for America.


  1. Great post. The problem is this does exist but it’s clearly not working. Thank you for posting this. It’s the beginning of a really important conversation about changes that are needed.

  2. The gig economy is also destructive to organizations. Understanding the industry and how a company operates are important. The Gig economy not the best for developing either knowledge. I have seen too many projects fail or deliver a subpar output.

  3. You are exactly right. I’m between contracts (again!) and was forced into the gig economy in 2005 against my will. I’ve been through four employers in 11 years because of this. That’s just the way it is for many workers. Even if you are hired “permanent full-time,” as soon as the project is over, you’re laid off. I spend half of my working time looking for my next contract and the stress is killing me.

    I’m 59 and so tired of it all that I recently ended up diagnosed with major depression and anxiety disorder. Is this any surprise? I’m having trouble getting Unemployment, doctors won’t sign off on disability in spite of the above diagnosis and the fact that I’m in constant pain from degenerative disc disease from a previous career. Like Laurie, I have a spouse who has a decent job with insurance but we’re struggling. Again.

    What are people like me supposed to do? The gig economy is a vertical wall for older workers.

  4. I agree 1000%. The Gig Economy (and freelance life) works if you have a spouse that provides healthcare and a steady paycheck. Or, if it’s just you and you’re willing to live very lean. After 10 years of freelancing (9 of those as a single parent) I am burnt out and ready for a change to a career in something more predictable — if that exists.

    • As far as I can tell, many of the advertised permanent jobs really are gig jobs in disguise.

  5. When I was looking for work, people would often ask me why I didn’t become a virtual assistant, or freelance, or any of the other ways of saying “gig” – I had to repeat over and over that I needed healthcare insurance, I needed a steady income, and starting a business was just not anything I could reasonably consider. It’s great if you can, we just were not able to do that.

    Mind you, I recognize that (to quote Careerealism) “every job is temporary” but I would much rather have the stability of the full time employed by someone else model at this point in life.

  6. I cannot disagree with what you say but let me share a different pov. I am working on a book on automation so have been looking at historical trends. For decades now, companies have been moving to outsourced labor, and between contract manufacturing, third party logistics, franchises, crowdsourcing, gig economy etc 80 to 90% of talent of many companies is not on their payroll. We can criticize that but companies live much shorter lives these days. In the 50s a company could expect to stay on the S&P 500 list for 60+ years. These days, the average is under 20 years so they have moved away from life time employment, pensions etc. As far as your suggestions for government intervention like free education, my research shows every time the government tackles something to do with labor – like change pensions, it causes unintended consequences like making aging workers work longer. We have a very complex labor economy which I find even smart regulators and academics do not fully grasp. We need a fuller policy discussion but in the current political climate I suspect that is not realistic.

  7. Some great insights and perspectives, Laurie. Indeed, many “gurus” confuse gigs (or freelancing) with entrepreneurship. Gigs are really the art of taking on all the costs and risks of working a bunch of part-time jobs with short time horizons. There’s really no residual or steady income stream either.

    Entrepreneurship, on the other hand, seeks to create a product or service with a life of its own and not dependent on a single person. It seeks to create more jobs for others. That’s what we need to encourage and facilitate.

  8. The only problem with Gil’s approach is that not everyone is suited to be an entrepreneur for various reasons. Those people will either recognize that they are not the type and never start or will start and fail.

    I know that I’m not the entrepreneurial sort. So where does that leave people like me in a “gig economy?”

Comments are closed.