U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2023)

Working in a gig economy

By Elka Torpey and Andrew Hogan | May 2016

Ryan Heenan works whenever, wherever. He’s a songwriter who sells customized jingles and videos online to clients worldwide. “It’s really a dream come true,” says Heenan. “It gives me the freedom to set my own hours. And I can do what I do anywhere there’s an Internet connection.”

Heenan is one of many people in the so-called gig economy. But there is no official definition of the “gig economy”—or, for that matter, a gig. For purposes of this article, a gig describes a single project or task for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand.

Some gigs are a type of short-term job, and some workers pursue gigs as a self-employment option; those concepts aren’t new. However, companies connecting workers with these jobs through websites or mobile applications (more commonly known as apps) is a more recent development.

Keep reading to learn what gigs are all about and how some workers are taking a gig approach to earning money. You’ll gain insight into the pros and cons of gig work, along with suggestions for getting started.

The gig workforce

Gig workers are spread among diverse occupation groups and are not easily identified in surveys of employment and earnings. But they are similar in the way they earn money.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (1)

These workers often get individual gigs using a website or mobile app that helps to match them with customers. Some gigs may be very brief, such as answering a 5-minute survey. Others are much longer but still of limited duration, such as an 18-month database management project. When one gig is over, workers who earn a steady income this way must find another. And sometimes, that means juggling multiple jobs at once.

For example, TyKecia Hayes is a freelance filmmaker in Los Angeles, California. When she’s between filmmaking projects, Hayes picks up gigs that include working as a personal assistant, helping people move, and making deliveries. “I’m able to work when I need money and take off when I need to,” she says. “That’s the beauty of it.”

Counting gig workers

You may have heard a lot of buzz about growth in the gig economy. But government data sources have difficulty counting how many gig workers there are. Among the sources that may shed light on this topic are data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the U.S. Census Bureau.

BLS data. Gig workers could be in contingent or alternative employment arrangements, or both, as measured by BLS. Contingent workers are those who don’t have an implicit or explicit contract for long-term employment. Alternative employment arrangements include independent contractors (also called freelancers or independent consultants), on-call workers, and workers provided by temporary help agencies or contract firms.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2)

The data BLS has for these types of workers are about a decade old. In 2005, contingent workers accounted for roughly 2 to 4 percent of all workers. About 7 percent of workers were independent contractors, the most common alternative employment arrangement, in that year. BLS plans to collect these data again in May 2017.

Other, more recent, data from BLS likely reflect a lot of gig work, but these workers are not broken out separately. For example, gig workers may be included in counts of workers who are part-time, self-employed, or hold multiple jobs. But these counts also include workers who are not part of the gig workforce.

Census data. Nonemployer statistics data, created by the Census Bureau from tax data provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), offer another possible look at what’s been happening in the gig economy. Many gig workers fit the Census definition of a nonemployer: in most cases, a self-employed individual operating a very small, unincorporated business with no paid employees.

(Video) Understanding BLS Unemployment Statistics

Between 2003 and 2013, all industry sectors experienced growth in nonemployer businesses. The “other services” sector gained nearly 1 million nonemployer businesses during that time, the most of any sector. (See chart 1.) Many of the occupations in this sector involve on-demand services, such as petsitting and appliance repair, making them well suited to gig employment.

View Chart Data

Occupations for gig employment

Gigs are more likely in some occupations than in others. Work that involves a single task, such as writing a business plan, lends itself well to this type of arrangement. Any occupation in which workers may be hired for on-demand jobs has the potential for gig employment.

The BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) covers about 83 percent of the jobs in the U.S. economy. Its 329 detailed profiles of occupations are sorted by group. This section highlights some of those groups in which gig work may be increasingly relevant, giving examples of occupations in each.

Arts and design. Many occupations in this group, including musicians, graphic designers, and craft and fine artists, offer specific one-time services or customized products, which makes them good candidates for gig work.

Computer and information technology. Web developers, software developers, and computer programmers are among the occupations in this group in which workers might be hired to complete a single job, such as to create a small-business website or a new type of software.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (3)

Construction and extraction. Carpenters, painters, and other construction workers frequently take on individual projects of short duration, a hallmark of gig jobs.

Media and communications. The services of technical writers, interpreters and translators, photographers, and others in this group are often project-based and easy to deliver electronically, fueling a market for gig workers.

Transportation and material moving. Ridesharing apps have helped to create opportunities for workers who provide transportation to passengers as needed, and on-demand shopping services have led to gig jobs for delivery drivers.

Pros and cons of gig work

Gig workers may do varied tasks, but they have similar things they enjoy—and don’t—about their arrangements.

Freedom to work as they please is what many people like, but with autonomy comes responsibility. For example, it can be stressful for gig workers to ensure that they have consistent income. “When you’re a freelancer, you make the decisions, which is fantastic,” says Theresa Anderson of Las Vegas, Nevada, who does graphic design projects part time from her home. “But it can also be really scary.”


Gig workers say that they like being in control. They can choose projects they enjoy and schedule their work around their lives.

(Video) Celebrate World Statistics Day with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (4)

Flexibility. People who want to work without having set hours may look for gigs to fit their schedules. “I log on and work when I want,” says Ariana Baseman, a rideshare driver in Detroit, Michigan, who transports passengers in her spare time, in addition to working a traditional, full-time job. “It’s that flexible.”

Like other types of flexible employment arrangements, gigs may offer workers an option for adaptability. “The thing that I love about it is the freedom,” says Nick Walter, of Salt Lake City, Utah, who creates online classes in computer programming. “If you decide you want to go on vacation, you can do that.”

Variety. Gigs may provide workers with a chance to try several types of jobs. As a result, they present variety and career exploration to both new and experienced workers. “Take opportunities when they arise,” says Heenan. “You have a lot of chances to do different things.”

And if you’re a “people person,” gig work may offer interaction with a diverse clientele. “I love that I get to constantly work with different people,” says Hayes. “I’m pretty social, so I enjoy meeting all types.”

Passion. You might want to select gigs the same way you would traditional employment: by finding work in which you pursue your interests. And depending on how you schedule your gigs, you might be able to choose among many passions.

Some workers take gigs that allow them to encourage others in a field they enjoy. For example, retired business owner Tamma Ford of Seattle, Washington, takes consulting gigs that let her share her expertise with people who are just getting started.


There’s a lot of uncertainty associated with gig work. For example, you’ll need to have a steady stream of gigs to get consistent pay. Even then, the amount you earn may not offset some of the costs you’ll be responsible for outside of a traditional employment relationship, such as benefits.

Inconsistency. Landing enough work to provide a stable income from gigs alone isn’t always easy, or even possible. As a result, many gig workers find gigs adequate for part-time work but not a full-time career.

Workers may struggle with looking for jobs, not knowing what—if anything—will come next. “Sometimes you’re not making any money because you’re not getting any work,” says Baseman. “That part’s not really in your control.” And even after you complete a gig, you may face periods of no income if there are delays in getting paid.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (5)

Scheduling. Not having set hours or an employer who provides direction for the day is challenging for some gig workers. “Unless you’re a very dedicated, self-motivated individual, it can be hard to focus,” says Walter. “There’s no one telling you what to do, no deadlines.”

And depending on the gig, you may need to work nonstandard days or times to finish a job. If you get a gig requiring hours on the weekend, for example, you might not be able to spend time with friends who have traditional 9-to-5 workweeks.

Lack of benefits. Gig workers don’t usually get employer-paid benefits, such as premiums on health insurance and contributions to retirement plans. You’ll need to research these topics and pay for the products yourself. “I took things like health insurance for granted,” says Heenan of his former job, working at a school. “When you freelance, you have to find those things on your own, and it’s expensive.”

Other benefits that gig workers often miss out on are annual leave and sick leave. Like any employees who don’t get paid time off, no work means no pay.

(Video) The Way CPI is Measured is Changing - U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Getting gigs

There are different ways to get started in the gig economy. Identify what you do well and what you might enjoy doing. Then, search for opportunities while keeping in mind some practical matters.

Create your niche

Think about the types of services you might be able to offer. What skills, experience, or other assets do you have that you can share? Consider that some gigs are for general tasks and others require a specific skillset.

Learn from others. When you have an idea of the type of work you’d like to do, talk to people who are already doing it. Or browse blogs or other resources to learn from the experiences of others.

Scoping out the market for your services will help you determine how much to charge—or even whether you should pursue your plan. “Start to get a feel for the value of your work,” says Orlando Rivera, who does general handiwork and construction, among other tasks, in Brooklyn, New York. Ford learned a lot by looking at the profiles of others who were doing the types of tasks she wanted to do: nonfiction writing, translation, and business consulting.

Stand out. Figure out ways to differentiate yourself from other workers, such as by offering a service that is unique or in high demand. You might want to consider becoming self-employed as a way to fill that niche.

As mentioned previously, gig workers may be counted among workers who are self-employed. Some industries are projected to have more growth than others in the number of self-employed jobs over the 2014–24 decade. For example, home health care services is projected to grow rapidly and add many self-employed jobs over the decade.

Find opportunities

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (6)

Many gig workers use a platform (usually a third-party company that has a website or an app) to help connect them with jobs. But others find work off platform (such as through networking). Still others get gigs from both sources.

Sign up. Applying to work with a gig platform may involve providing information about yourself and your services. If you create a profile, be sure it’s professional and complete.

But, Walter cautions, consider taking gigs on the side until you’re sure you like working this way. “All these places make it so easy to just jump in and start doing something,” he says. “Get signed up and try it. But don’t quit your day job.”

Consider off-platform work. With some types of work, you may be able to find jobs without the help of an intermediary. Many gig platforms take a cut of the money paid for services, so your work may be more profitable if you find jobs yourself.

To get gigs off platform, you might advertise your services by distributing flyers or posting on a website. You might also try to drum up business by connecting through community associations or your local chamber of commerce.

Build your base. Regardless of how you get gigs, referrals and positive feedback from clients are key. If you build a reputation for quality work, people may be more likely to seek you out for future gigs.

In fact, successful gig workers often say that many of their jobs are from repeat business. “Treat every task as an opportunity to perform your best,” says Rivera, “and have fun while you’re at it.”

Be realistic

Deciding to take a gig approach to earning money requires patience, budgeting, and adaptability.

(Video) Confidentiality Is a Serious Matter at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Give it time. Expect that it will take time to learn what works, and what doesn’t, when pursuing gigs. It may take a few tries before you figure out which keywords to use when searching for jobs, for example. And even then, it could take months to get gigs regularly.

Anderson started out doing graphic design gigs as a hobby for about a year, eventually building up to 10 to 15 hours per week of supplemental income. “Don’t think you’re going to make a fortune overnight,” she says.

Manage money. Even if you’re patient about making money, you should have a backup plan: figure out what you’ll do for income if you don’t get enough gig work to pay the bills. You might want to work a more traditional job, in addition to doing gigs, at least at first.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (7)

Managing finances is an important part of making gig arrangements viable. As a gig worker, you’ll need to keep track of the money you earn. You should also set aside some of your income for other purposes, such as an emergency fund for unplanned expenses.

Be adaptable. Not every gig is a good fit, and it’s okay to trust your instincts. “If it doesn’t feel right,” says Ford, “let it go.” Gig workers also advise changing tactics when what you’re doing isn’t going well.

To stay competitive in the gig economy, be prepared to keep learning. For example, Anderson takes advantage of free graphic design tutorials whenever they’re offered, keeping her skills current to grow her business over time. “The more I do graphic design, the more I love it,” she says of her gig work. “I genuinely want to do this and make it a career.”

Sources for learning more

Explore hundreds of occupations, including some with the potential for gig work, using the OOH.

BLS data on contingent and alternative work arrangements are available on the Current Population Survey site. And read more about the upcoming contingent and alternative work arrangement supplement in a BLS blog post.

More BLS information is available about freelance work in a 2015 Monthly Labor Review article.

Career Outlook has a number of articles that may be of interest to people considering gig employment. These include the following:

  • Careers for creative people
  • Self-employment: What to know to be your own boss
  • Bloggers and webcomic artists: Careers in online creativity
  • Flexible work: Adjusting the when and where of your job

Workers in individual occupations compatible with gig work are featured in “You’re a what?” articles including:

  • Mystery shopper
  • Grant writer
  • Online seller

Elka Torpey and Andrew Hogan are economists in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, BLS. They can be reached at torpey.elka@bls.gov and hogan.andrew@bls.gov, respectively.

Suggested citation:

By Elka Torpey and Andrew Hogan,"Working in a gig economy," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2016.

(Video) How to find U.S. wage and employment data using BLS QCEW


What does the US Bureau of Labor Statistics do? ›

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics collects, analyzes, and publishes reliable information on many aspects of our economy and society. We measure employment, compensation, worker safety, productivity, and price movements.

What is the Bureau of Labor Statistics report? ›

BLS Reports provide analytical information related to the labor force, consumer spending, earnings, and work injuries and illnesses. Typically, reports contain a few pages of written analysis followed by statistical tables, which allow you to gather detailed information on economic conditions.

What is the U.S. inflation report today? ›

US Inflation Rate is at 6.41%, compared to 6.45% last month and 7.48% last year. This is higher than the long term average of 3.28%.

What is Bureau of Labour statistics in USA? ›

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Home

Productivity increased 1.7 percent in the nonfarm business sector in the fourth quarter of 2022; unit labor costs increased 3.2 percent (seasonally adjusted annual rates). In manufacturing, productivity decreased 2.7 percent and unit labor costs increased 7.7 percent.

Do you have to fill out the Bureau of Labor Statistics? ›

Nearly all of our surveys are voluntary, which means the individuals, households, and organizations selected for our survey samples can choose whether to participate.

Who does the Bureau of Labor Statistics report to? ›

The BLS also serves as a statistical resource to the United States Department of Labor, and conducts research measuring the income levels families need to maintain a satisfactory quality of life. Washington, D.C., U.S.

What types of employment data does the Bureau of Labor Statistics provide? ›

BLS publishes a large amount of information by occupation, including career information, employment levels and projections, and data on earnings and working conditions.

How does the US Bureau of Labor Statistics gather info? ›

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) obtains Consumer Expenditure Surveys (CE) Interview Survey and Diary Survey data by interviewing respondents about their expenditures, income, and characteristics. The U.S. Census Bureau selects the samples of household addresses and collects the data under contract with BLS.

What is the main cause of inflation in the US right now? ›

At its root, inflation is driven by too much demand relative to supply.

How high is inflation right now? ›

The annual inflation rate for the United States is 6.4% for the 12 months ended January 2023 after rising 6.5% previously, according to U.S. Labor Department data published Feb. 14. The next inflation update is scheduled for release on March 14 at 8:30 a.m. ET.

What is the projected inflation rate for 2023? ›

The forecasters have reduced their estimates for the probability that core PCE inflation in 2023 will be 3.5 percent or higher compared with their prediction in the last survey.

Is the U.S. in a labor shortage? ›

Nearly three years into the pandemic, America is still experiencing a labor shortage. About 3.5 million workers are “missing” from the workforce, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

Where does the U.S. rank in labor force? ›

The average for 2021 based on 180 countries was 19.04 million people.
Labor force, million people, 2021 - Country rankings:
Labor force, 2021164.79
Global rank3
Available data1990 - 2021
107 more columns

Is BLS a government agency? ›

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a Federal government agency and everything that we publish, both in hard copy and electronically, is in the public domain, except for previously copyrighted photographs and illustrations.

Is the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey legitimate? ›

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a nonpartisan statistical agency. We collect information to produce statistics of the U.S. labor market, price changes, working conditions, and productivity. We safeguard respondent information rigorously.

Who does the Bureau of Labor Statistics count as unemployed? ›

No; the estimate of unemployment is based on a monthly sample survey of households. All persons who are without jobs and are actively seeking and available to work are included among the unemployed. (People on temporary layoff are included even if they do not actively seek work.)

Who is counted as being employed? ›

People are considered employed if they work at least one hour for pay or at their own business at any time during the week including the twelfth day of the month. People who work as unpaid workers for fifteen hours or more in a family-owned business are also considered employed.

Who controls the US Department of Labor? ›

Secretary of Labor Martin J. Walsh

A lifelong champion of equity and fairness, and a proud product of the City of Boston, Secretary Walsh leads the U.S. Department of Labor with a strong connection to working people, and a commitment to creating an economy that works for all.

What is 29 U.S. Code Section 2? ›

“The Secretary of Labor shall, through the Bureau of Labor Statistics, develop, from existing data sources, a reweighted index of consumer prices which reflects the expenditures for consumption by Americans 62 years of age and older.

Which type of data are not published by BLS? ›

Although BLS publishes a wide range of information about workplace injuries and illnesses, BLS does not publish the costs associated with workplace injuries. BLS publishes data on consumer prices, which can be found at www.bls.gov/cpi. BLS publishes data on producer prices, which can be found at www.bls.gov/ppi.

How far back does BLS data go? ›

Source: Current Employment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since 1939, the CES program has published monthly data for total nonfarm employment and employment in selected major industries on the basis of the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system for all major industry sectors.

What are the three categories into which the Bureau of Labor Statistics? ›

The Bureau of Labor Statistics divides people primarily into three categories: employed, unemployed, and out of the labor force.

Who collects the employment data? ›

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects data each month on employment, hours, and earnings from a sample of nonfarm establishments through the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program.

What does the Bureau of Labor Statistics do when did it begin? ›

History of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

The BLS was first established as a branch of the Department of the Interior in 1884 with a mandate to research and compile information about economics and labor.

How does BLS measure inflation? ›

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by consumers for a representative basket of consumer goods and services. The CPI measures inflation as experienced by consumers in their day-to-day living expenses.

Who benefits from inflation? ›

Inflation benefits those with fixed-rate, low-interest mortgages and some stock investors. Individuals and families on a fixed income, holding variable interest rate debt are hurt the most by inflation.

How can we stop inflation? ›

Reducing government spending would tamp down on demand-fueled inflation, while at the same time restoring confidence in the ability of the federal government to pay down the debt and thus control inflation expectations.

Do prices go down after inflation? ›

inflation will fall as quickly and dramatically as it rose. We've seen it happen before.” In other words, prices could drop all of a sudden. Blinder also adds that raising interest rates won't be the end-all solution to lowering inflation.

What are the 5 causes of inflation? ›

What are the 5 causes of inflation?
  • Demand-pull inflation.
  • Cost-push inflation.
  • Increased money supply (i.e. money printing)
  • Currency devaluation.
  • Government policies and regulations.

Is US inflation cooling down? ›

Inflation surged in January by the most in three months, according to the latest Consumer Price Index released Tuesday. But despite the monthly increase of 0.5%, inflation continued to slow on a year-over-year basis to 6.4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Is the US economy getting better? ›

The United States economy has made an impressive recovery after COVID-19. The economy as a whole has returned to its pre-pandemic growth trajectory, with real GDP growing 2.1% in 2022, reports Statista.

What is the highest inflation rate in US history? ›

Inflation Rate in the United States averaged 3.29 percent from 1914 until 2023, reaching an all time high of 23.70 percent in June of 1920 and a record low of -15.80 percent in June of 1921.

What will inflation be in the next 5 years? ›

US Expected Change in Inflation Rates: Next 5 Years is at 2.90%, compared to 2.90% last month and 3.00% last year. This is lower than the long term average of 3.20%.

Will US inflation go down in 2023? ›

Per the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast, US annual inflation in 2023 is expected to decrease to 3.5% (please see the chart below). However, that inflation rate will still be higher than in pre-pandemic years. We can compute annual inflation by taking an average of monthly inflation rates during a year.

What is causing the US labor shortage? ›

The pandemic caused a major disruption in America's labor force—something many have referred to as The Great Resignation. In 2021, more than 47 million workers quit their jobs, many of whom were in search of an improved work-life balance and flexibility, increased compensation, and a strong company culture.

What is causing the worker shortage? ›

The leading cause of the worker shortfall, according to research by the Fed, is a surge in retirements.

What state has the biggest labor shortage? ›

Every state is facing an unprecedented challenge finding workers to fill open jobs. Learn which states have been impacted the most by the nation's worker shortage crisis.
  • Job Openings: 1,207,000.
  • Unemployed Workers: 782,288.
  • Labor Force Participation Rate: 62.1%
  • Quit Rate: 2.6%
  • Hiring Rate: 3.5%
Feb 1, 2023

What is the largest workforce in America? ›

Employment by company
United States-based largest private employers
RankEmployerGlobal number of employees
1Walmart, Inc.2,300,000
2Amazon.com, Inc.1,608,000
3Allied Universal800,000
26 more rows

What is the purpose of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics? ›

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics collects, analyzes, and publishes reliable information on many aspects of our economy and society. We measure employment, compensation, worker safety, productivity, and price movements.

What is the role of Bureau of Labor Statistics? ›

The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures labor market activity, working conditions, price changes, and productivity in the U.S. economy to support public and private decision making.

Is BLS wage data accurate? ›

The statistical reliability of the BLS wage data is adequate for most metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas (at least 90 percent of areas). For a small proportion of areas, the BLS data are not as reliable.

How does the US Bureau of Labor Statistics gather information? ›

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) obtains Consumer Expenditure Surveys (CE) Interview Survey and Diary Survey data by interviewing respondents about their expenditures, income, and characteristics. The U.S. Census Bureau selects the samples of household addresses and collects the data under contract with BLS.

What is included in an employment data report? ›

The EDR provides current and historical employment and income information in The Work Number as well as a listing of verifiers who have requested your data in the past 24 months and information on how to dispute any inaccurate data.

Does the Bureau of Labor Statistics call you? ›

What methods are there to provide data? A BLS field economist will contact you to discuss your preferred method to provide data. Several methods are available, including mail, fax, telephone, and a personal interview with the field economist.

Is the Bureau of Labor Statistics a government agency? ›

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a Federal government agency and everything that we publish, both in hard copy and electronically, is in the public domain, except for previously copyrighted photographs and illustrations.

WHO MADE US Bureau of Labor Statistics? ›

On June 27, 1884 a bill signed into law (23 Stat. 60) by President Chester Arthur created the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


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