Our guest speaker for the evening was Dr. Ana Ferrer from the University of Waterloo.

After obtaining her doctorate from Boston University, Dr. Ferrer began her research career at UBC and is currently the Associate Dean of Research at the UWaterloo Department of Economics.  Her research interests are focused on immigration and family outcomes including the effects of fertility and linguistic fluency on assimilation.

Dr. Ferrer’s topic for the evening was “The Gig Economy”, in which labour services occur outside long-term traditional employment.  In the Gig Economy, work is referred to as “contingent” work, and can include “contractual” work, in which self-employed individuals submit their own invoices.  Especially since the arrival of companies like Uber on the scene, there have been growing concerns about the rapid expansion of the Gig Economy, which, however, are not born out by recent statistics.  The large majority continue to partake in traditional long-term employment.  The number of part-time jobs has increased, but only by 2% over the last 20 years.

In examining the nature of contingent work, it is important to distinguish between employees and the self-employed; between workers and jobs; and also between job quality and type of job (bad jobs exist in all parts of the economy!).  Regarding income, some of the questions that come up are:

  • Is a job the main source of family income?
  • Is the contingent worker a multiple job holder?
  • Is the job associated with a shared economy?
  • Are specific demographic groups engaged in the Gig Economy?

Looking at temporary jobs overall between 1997 and 2018, there is a small difference in numbers between men and women.  3% of all workers are engaged in “involuntary” part-time work because they can’t find full-time work.   Looking at the self-employed group in the Gig Economy, the number of males is decreasing, while the number of females is increasing.  However, males have larger businesses than females.

Among multiple job holders, 50% hold more than one contingent job, 25% split time between contingent and self-employed jobs, and 9% are solely in self-employed jobs.  Among age groups, younger workers hold the highest number of low-paying temporary jobs.

The most obvious advantage for contingent workers is flexibility.  However, problems remain with worker exploitation, unreported transactions, low income and/or income instability, and lack of access to training and benefits.  Looking to the future, technological advances are changing the landscape, with the jobs most at risk being the lowest income jobs.  There is a need for further regulation of labour markets and for new income protection policies.  Attention needs also to be paid to education in a changing economy.