8 Major Moments in Gig Economy History

Finding work looks very different than it did 20, 10, even 5 years ago. You can open an app on your phone, look for jobs, and with the tap of a button have your next work schedule. You can drive your own car around town, dropping off and picking up people, food, and things to make money. You can visit the same job site for a few weeks to learn new skills and network, then move on to the next once that job is over. While many of these trends and methods are new, the gig economy has been around for ages.

The gig economy has been called many things: the sharing economy; on-demand economy; peer economy; platform economy…but no matter what you call it, technology has pushed it into overdrive. Still, this type of work is nothing new; gig workers have been at it for a very long time. British historian Tawny Paul explains that “Prior to the industrialization in the 19th century, most people worked multiple jobs to piece together a living.” Sound familiar? Many modern-day workers choose a mix of roles, tasks, and jobs to make ends meet, supplement their income, and help toward savings.

There are plenty of other jobs that have been around for years, but maybe not viewed or defined as gig work. Some of them are nannies or childcare workers, truck drivers, drivers and taxi services, personal shoppers, and couriers – but when looking at the core of how the job is structured, we’re looking at traditional gig work.

Tech advances have allowed people to be constantly connected, at any time – making the job search and hiring new staff seamless and immediate. But gig work has been available on the internet long before apps like JobStack and DoorDash. Let’s explore a timeline:

Earlier in history: Researchers have compared gig work to piecework, a work payment structure in which jobs are broken down into smaller tasks or done by multiple people. This method of work has been around for hundreds of years.

1915: Jazz musicians used the term “gig” for “job” confirmed in 1915, but potentially as early as 1905

1940s: World War II prompts opening of the first large companies promoting gig-type work, offering temporary labor to businesses needing to fill workforce gaps

1995: Craigslist is introduced, providing local San Francisco-based online classifieds devoted to jobs, items wanted and for sale, gigs, services, resumes, housing, and more. The service has now expanded to cover 70 countries.

1999: The freelancing website Elance, now known as Upwork, launched – allowing freelancers to use the internet to find new projects and clients.

2008: Airbnb launches, allowing people to rent their homes to guests – giving them the opportunity to play hotelier for one night or 365.

2009: The ridesharing app, Uber, is released and lets people drive their own vehicles to taxi customers from point A to point B.

2012: Lyft joins the rideshare market and expands quickly over the next few years to rival Uber

2014: In the U.K., employees are granted the right to request flexible work after continuous full-time employment of 26 weeks - these shifts continue to vary across the globe

Now: 36 percent of U.S. workers take part in the gig economy, Gallup defines this as having “an alternative work arrangement as their primary job”. That adds up to roughly 57 million Americans, up from 53 million in 2015. The number of people in the gig economy is only expected to increase to 43 percent by 2020.

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About the Author

Anna Mischke is the Content Marketing Specialist for PeopleReady. Stories are what spark Anna and she's continually feeding her curiosity around the constant shifts in marketing, technology, and psychology - and their correlation with one another. Often, she's writing, feverishly reading, illustrating, or sneaking treats to her Scottish Fold kittens.

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