The gig economy could be the new path to middle class

Tania Caldwell never saw herself as a jewelry maker let alone make money off it. 

“I’ve just been doing it as a hobby and then I had some friends that offered to pay me a little extra money just to make them some jewelry,” Caldwell said.

But now, making jewelry is her side gig.

She calls it Pretty Sparkling Designs and she makes jewelry on her own time on top of full-time work as a Certified Medical Assistant and part-time work as a hairstylist.

“A lot of people in the gig economy are working multiple things,” explains Penn State Clinical Professor of Supply Chain and Information Systems John Jordan.

It’s a trend Jordan says is driven by technology.

“Uber sort of led the way,” he says. 

However, there’s more to the story.

“Even though wages for the middle class are pretty flat, nobody’s been getting a lot of raises for the last 30 years,” Jordan says, “Healthcare costs have not been.”

As healthcare costs rise, Jordan says the gig economy will actually benefit employers because gig workers are contracted. The costs of benefits for contracted workers is low, compared to hiring employees.

A benefit for the workers is that they get to create their own schedule.

Jordan says it’s also the new path for Americans to keep up with the economic middle class.

“You start getting multiple revenue streams and you sorta stay afloat,” he adds. 

That’s exactly why Caldwell says she’s working so many jobs.

“My husband and I have been struggling with infertility for several years and we’ve been seeing a fertility doctor in Pittsburgh for a couple years and the bills are piling up,” explains Caldwell.

Intuit, the owner of Turbotax, says the gig economy makes up about 34% of the workforce and it’s expected to jump up to 43% by 2020.

Bradley Shaffer, a junior at Bishop Guilfoyle high school, is already working side gigs. 

“It’s not something i want to spend a lot of my time on,” says Shaffer.

One of those gigs is Shaffer’s Suds to Go, a waterless mobile car wash.

It’s one of many ideas he has to make extra cash and is something he sees going for a long time. 

“You’re not stuck doing one thing, you’re in several different areas,” says Shaffer. “It’s easier to make money, quicker.”

“It used to be eBay, and that was things. And now it’s your services, and this is sort of eBay for your skills,” explains Jordan.

Jordan points out the gig economy is made up of people with an asset or skill and can provide you with something, on a small scale.

It’s a service economy that he believes will be the norm for most Americans.

“Given the decline of manufacturing, I do think that the path to middle class status, whatever that turns out to be, after 2020 or there about, will have some gig in it,” says Jordan.

Caldwell has only been doing her side gig for about a month, and she says social media is making it easy.

“Friends of friends will share my page and even strangers will see it,” says Caldwell.

She’s doing work she enjoys,  whenever she wants  and making extra money in the process.

“It’s doing quite well,” she says with a smile. 

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