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.