Community researchers raised several thoughtful questions about the impact of gig and independent work at a well-attended session on Measuring the Gig Economy at the State and Local Level during the C2ER annual conference in St. Louis. The Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) is a membership organization promoting excellence in community and economic research. 

Panelists Ellen Harpel (Business Development Advisors and Smart Incentives) and Troy Mix (Institute for Public Administration, University of Delaware) addressed two leading topics in their presentations. 

  • How do you measure the gig economy in a community or region?
  • What are the best data sources?

There is no single resource on the gig economy, but several federal data sources provide useful insights. Ellen described specific research resources used to understand the importance of gig and independent work in the Washington, DC, metropolitan economy.* Her presentation can be downloaded here. Troy provided practical guidance for initiating research into the gig economy, including approaches, limitations, and resources. Troy’s presentation is available here

What does gig work mean for people and communities?

Researchers also want to know more about gig and independent work in order to understand its influence on economic statistics and economic development performance metrics. They want to know how individuals in their communities are participating in the gig economy. The policy and program implications of gig and independent work are also top of mind.

Specific questions raised that are likely to drive future research in this arena are:

  • How does gig economy data fit into a regional understanding of the economy? 
  • How does gig and independent work affect the unemployment rate? 
  • How can we measure the economic value of all types of gig and independent work? 
  • Do job creation numbers for projects reflect all the people affected, including contractors and other gig or independent workers? 
  • Which industries are most affected by gig and independent work? 
  • Can we identify the skill levels or areas of expertise for gig workers, especially those in tech fields?
  • What are the demographics of gig workers? 
  • What are the economic development programs and policies that should be considered relative to the gig economy? 

We look forward to more research from community and economic development organizations on this important topic in the coming years. 

* The full report on “Gig and Independent Work in the Washington Region’s Economy” prepared by Ellen Harpel and The Stephen S. Fuller Institute at George Mason University can be downloaded here. An Executive Summary is also available. “Gig and Independent Work in the Washington Regional Economy” is part of a series of reports on The Changing Nature of the Work in the Washington Region, all of which can be viewed here.