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New Research Sheds Light on Gig and Non-Traditional Workers

Alyson Wise — Former Associate Director, Economic Equity Opportunity
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Today, Commonwealth published new research on workers in the United States who are navigating a new employment landscape of traditional and non-traditional work. While traditional work arrangements yield a W-2, a growing number of non-traditional arrangements do not, including contract, freelance, temp, and gig work. Commonwealth’s research helps us compare the circumstances of individuals engaged across these segments and dig into the lived experience of non-traditional workers making less than $55,000 year.

Importantly, this research indicates that traditional and non-traditional workers face many of the same challenges when it comes to financial security. Overall, 75% of workers – whether in traditional or non-traditional arrangements – said they were currently struggling or just getting by financially. The largest emergency expense these workers could cover was less than $100, regardless of work arrangement. 32% of workers had skipped a medical treatment in the prior 12 months because they could not afford it and 26% of workers—both traditional and nontraditional—reported no plans to start saving for retirement.

Yet, the research also indicates that these work arrangements do differ meaningfully in some ways. Non-traditional workers are more likely to experience income volatility whereas traditional workers reported more stable incomes but less ability to control the number of hours they worked.

This research underscores that workers across the U.S. are facing significant challenges. Regardless of the employment arrangement they find themselves in, they’re not getting what they need to make ends meet or plan for their future. There’s something to be said for the power of choice; the non-traditional workers Commonwealth engaged in this research indicated that they chose this work and do not have plans to go back to a traditional W2. Yet, how powerful is a choice between the lesser of two evils? As we continue to see unemployment rates decline, let’s remember that important work remains to advance job quality and increased access to opportunity that allows people to cover their daily expenses and save for the future.

Endnote: The Rockefeller Foundation was proud to co-fund Commonwealth’s outstanding research with MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth.

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