Things change fast in the gig economy. A year ago, who would have guessed that the rise of dockless scooter companies like Bird and Lime — and their use of independent workers as chargers — would make 2018 the year of the scooter?
What will 2019 bring for the millions of part-time, temporary and contract workers in the U.S.? It’s hard to say, but based on what we’ve seen in 2018, here are some trends independent workers should be keeping an eye out for in the new year.
According to a 2018 report from Gallup, 36 percent of U.S. workers are part of the gig economy through either their primary or secondary jobs. That’s more than one-third, or 57 million of American workers, and the number is only projected to increase, fueled by the nature of changing jobs and the need to make ends meet. One report projects that, based on current growth rates, contract workers could make up more than half of the U.S. workforce by 2027. Need more proof that the gig economy is growing as you read this? Ask an unlikely source: Pinterest. USA Today reported that in 2018, users searched for ways to make extra money with a side hustle 690 percent more than they did in previous years.
A bigger gig economy means more large companies will sit up, take notice, and want a piece of the action. In some cases that will mean corporations hiring contract workers instead of hiring full-time or part-time employees. Or it could mean some corporations partnering with or acquiring smaller companies in the sharing economy, as IKEA did with TaskRabbit or Ford did with Spin, one of the electric scooter companies.
Health insurance is always an issue for gig workers, who often don’t get benefits. The Affordable Care Act, through which many independent workers are insured, has been a political hot potato since it was introduced, and is likely to be in for more changes in 2019. The exact nature of those changes is as yet unclear, but with a big change in Congress and a Texas federal judge’s recent ruling against the ACA, gig economy workers are going to want to keep an eye on health insurance in the coming year. The good news is, independent workers can expect to see private companies stepping into the healthcare breach. In 2018, The Freelancers Union helped to launch Trupo, a company which offers short-term disability insurance for independent workers. Other companies, like Steady’s partner eHealth, make it easy for workers to find and compare health plans.
In November of 2017, a major tax overhaul was passed. What does that mean for gig workers? Well, the changes could be a good thing. While itemized deductions are a thing of the past for individuals, business expenses can still be itemized and deducted. The new law temporarily increased the bonus depreciation percentage from 50 to 100 percent for certain new purchases, like a computer or a vehicle. What does this mean? If you’re an Uber driver and you buy and start using a car for work between Sept. 27, 2017, and Jan. 1, 2023, you could be allowed to deduct 100 percent of the cost of the car the year you start using it. (Bonus depreciation is complicated— ask a tax preparer before buying a car.) You’ll also — just for 2018 — be able to deduct out-of-pocket health expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. Next year, the threshold goes back up to 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. So if you bought your own plan, that’s good news.
The unionization of gig workers in the U.S. may be in the future but these workers have already started to organize in other countries. In the U.K. the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has been taking small but significant steps this year to gain benefits for independent workers. In the EU, the European Commission set standards that apply to all workers, even those who work on a contract basis. In the U.S., Uber and Lyft drivers’ attempts at unionization have been an uphill battle, but as more and more people enter the gig economy, it’s likely that there will be more attempts to organize.
Lyft, AirBnB and Uber are all expected to have big IPOs this year. Their success is likely to inspire more start-ups which use independent workers. So, if you’re looking to join the gig economy, but there’s not a peer-to-peer service that looks good to you, wait a bit. There may be one soon.
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