… this profound shift and the three major trends that are central to it. These trends will have an enormous impact on our economy and our society:
1) We don’t actually know the true composition of the new workforce. After 2005, the government stopped counting independent workers in a meaningful and accurate way. Studies have shown that the independent workforce has grown and changed significantly since then, but the government hasn’t substantiated those results with a new, official count. Washington can’t fix what it can’t count. Since policies and budget decisions are based on data, freelancers are not being taken into account as a viable, critical component of the U.S. workforce. We’re not acknowledging their prevalence and economic contributions, let alone addressing the myriad challenges they face.
2) Jobs no longer provide the protections and security that workers used to expect. The basics such as health insurance, protection from unpaid wages, a retirement plan, and unemployment insurance are out of reach for one-third of working Americans. Independent workers are forced to seek them elsewhere, and if they can’t find or afford them, then they go without. Our current support system is based on a traditional employment model, where one worker must be tethered to one employer to receive those benefits. Given that fewer and fewer of us are working this way, it’s time to build a new support system that allows for the flexible and mobile way that people are working.
3) This new, changing workforce needs to build economic security in profoundly new ways. For the new workforce, the New Deal is irrelevant. When it was passed in the 1930s, the New Deal provided workers with important protections and benefits but those securities were built for a traditional employer-employee relationship. The New Deal has not evolved to include independent workers: no unemployment during lean times; no protections from age, race, and gender discrimination; no enforcement from the Department of Labor when employers don’t pay; and the list goes on.
The solution will rest with our ability to form networks for exchange and to create political power. I call this “new mutualism .” You will be reading more about this idea in subsequent articles from me next week, as I believe that new mutualism will be at the core of the new social support system that we need to build for the new workforce.
En The Economist: Jan Chipchase spent a week recording his own nomadic life for us in Tokyo and Seattle, taking pictures and leaving phone messages.