When businesses shut down due to the pandemic last year, millions of workers scrambled for ways to make ends meet, often while caring for children and supervising their online classes. Many turned to gig work — work for hire as a self-employed freelancer or independent contractor — that allowed them to work from home, according to a flexible schedule.
Although businesses are reopening at a rapid pace, some are gone for good. According to a recent working paper from the Federal Reserve Board, the first year of the pandemic saw about 130,000 excess closures compared to before the pandemic.
Some economists say millions of the jobs lost not only to business closures but also to changes in the ways companies do business, are gone for good. Add to that the reluctance of workers to return to the office full time, and it seems likely that the gig economy is here to stay.
Types of Gig Workers
Freelance Forward 2020, a study commissioned by Upwork, a popular freelance job platform, identified five segments of freelance workers:
5 Types of Freelance Workers
- Independent contractors (21.1 million workers): Traditional freelancers working project by project
- Moonlighters (14.3 million): Workers with a traditional job who do freelance work on the side
- Diversified workers (9.3 million): Workers with multiple sources of income from traditional and freelance work
- Temporary workers (5.5 million): Individuals working temporarily for a single employer or client
- Freelance business owners (2.8 million): A business owner who also identifies as a freelancer but has one to five employees
The number of freelance workers increased eight points from 2019 to 2020 and now stands at 36% of the workforce, according to the study. Half provide skilled services like programming, marketing, IT or business consulting. Of those who quit their full-time jobs to freelance, 75% say they earn at least as much freelancing as they earned as full-time employees.
Best Gig Economy Jobs
Merchant Maverick analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data for nonemployer businesses — a designation that covers most gig workers — and wage data from job sites like Indeed to identify the highest-paying gigs in the top 50 U.S. metropolitan areas. It presented its findings in a report, The Gig Economy. Here are some of the positions listed in the report and the hourly wage you can expect to earn.
1. Computer Pros: $34.66
These gigs run the gamut from programming to web design, and they have the potential to grow into a full-time business. Although you’ll likely need a degree or certification, some programmers charge upwards of $100 an hour for their work, so it’s worth acquiring the necessary skills.
You can find computer-related freelance work on gig platforms like Fiverr, Upwork and FlexJobs.
2. Laborer: $23.35
If you’ve got the muscle, you can make good money helping people move or hauling away their unwanted bulk items. Laborers who have trucks or vans can make even more by using their own vehicles.
You’ll find moving gigs on platforms like Dolly, Lugg and TaskRabbit.
Good To Know
The gig economy is missing several things that you’ve come to take for granted from your employer. This includes health benefits, vacation time, sick time and even payroll taxes, all of which you’re responsible for covering.
Some experts suggest that you put aside as much as half of what you make from any given job away in a bank account to pay for taxes and benefits that you’ll no longer be receiving from an employer.
3. Handyperson: $21.85
Homeowners, including investment-property owners, need help with all manner of household maintenance as well as assembling furniture, connecting home electronics and mounting televisions and art on the wall. If you have the skills to provide these services, there’s a good chance you can build a loyal following.
Handy and TaskRabbit are two gig platforms where you’ll find handyperson jobs listed.
4. Content Creator: $20.96
Writers, editors, graphic designers, photographers and video professionals can create their own income-generating content or create it for other businesses.
Popular platforms for monetizing your content include:
5. Online Tutor: $18.89
There’s plenty of demand for academic tutors who have the appropriate degrees and licenses. But even without formal teaching credentials, you can use your subject-matter expertise to prepare adult students for professional licensing exams you’ve passed.
Varsity Tutors, Chegg and TutorMe are just a few of the tutoring platforms where you can pick up gigs.
6. Rideshare Driver: $14.91
Rideshare demand plummeted at the beginning of the pandemic, forcing drivers to find other ways to earn income. As American reopens, ridesharing services are struggling to keep up with demand, prompting Uber, for example, to offer bonuses and other perks to attract new drivers.
You can maximize your earnings as a rideshare driver by working on two apps simultaneously, and by combining your rideshare gigs with food delivery gigs using apps like Uber Eats, DoorDash, GrubHub or Instacart.
Uber and Lyft are the best-known rideshare apps, but Curb and Wingz are up-and-coming alternatives available in select cities.
Where To Find Work
In addition to tapping your professional and social networks for opportunities, browse some of the many freelance job platforms and gig economy apps that have popped up in recent years.
Freelance Job Platforms
- People Per Hour
Gig Economy Apps
Nicholas Pell contributed to the reporting for this article.