24% Of Americans Have Now Worked In The Platform Economy

But just 16% of those workers feel the platform economy offers a launching point for any type of career.

Fully 24% of Americans have participated in the peer-to-peer or “sharing economy,” according to a new Pew Research report. Which is perhaps bigger than we thought.


Pew counts everyone who’s taken a task on a digital platform (like TaskRabbit), sold something to another community member (eBay), made something and sold it online (Etsy), driven their own cab (Uber), or rented a house (e.g. Airbnb). “These platforms also allow users to earn money in a range of other ways, such as sharing their possessions with others or selling their used goods or personal creations,” it says.

Those ages 18-29 are most likely to do a task or work via a digital platform; 30- to 49-year-olds are most likely to sell something online. More than half–56%–of Americans who do it see gig or piecemeal work essential to their budget; 42% as “nice to have.” “Workers who describe the income they earn from these platforms as ‘essential’ or ‘important’ are more likely to come from low-income households, to be non-white, and to have not attended college,” Pew says.

Pew’s polling–4,579 respondents, via web and mail this summer–reveals a certain unease about the piecemeal economy. Gigs are good from a flexibility point of view, for instance among people who don’t want to work full-time.

But 29% are concerned gigs place undue burden on workers (as opposed to companies); 41% express concern “people can build careers out of gig work.” Just 16% feel the platform economy offers a launching point for any type of career.

Pew says:

Proponents of these digital earning platforms argue that they offer important benefits, such as the freedom and flexibility to work at a time and place of one’s choosing or the ability to turn a hobby or pastime into a source of income. But others worry that this emerging “gig economy” represents a troubling shift in which workers face increased financial instability and are required to shoulder more of the burden for ensuring their own pay and benefits.

Here’s another analysis of the gig economy we covered recently.


[Photo: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket/Getty Images]

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.