Greg Ferenstein is a writer, researcher, educator, policy wonk, and optimist. He’s spent the last seven years doing extensive interviews and polling of gig workers. We’re honored to welcome Greg to the IPA blog with our inaugural Ask Me Anything series. 

This week, he covers everything from gig work’s positive role in the recession to policies protecting independent workers.

Question: How can gig work help cities bounce back during a recession?

Answer: High levels of self-employment is associated with economic resilience, so helping people get gigs and other independent contract work is likely a good way to respond to the current recession. 

Why? Well, independent contracts are very flexible. When the pandemic hit, app companies such as Instacart, could immediately respond to the unexpected surge for grocery delivery. It’s hard to hire with that kind of speed and unpredictability under a traditional employment relationship. No one knew how consumers were going to be using grocery delivery, so the best option was to allow individuals to make themselves available for hire on the app. 

Recessions are marked by unpredictability, so encouraging and supporting self-employment is one reliable way to get people the kind of intermittent work that tends to be available. 

Question: What kind of training or incentives should the government provide gig workers, given how much the economy relies on them?

Answer: This is something that I personally worked on. I was working with a nonprofit in the San Francisco Bay area that trained unemployed workers on finding stable income and learning new skills through the gig economy.

It’s pretty inspiring to see it first hand. People who are unemployed and discouraged suddenly have an opportunity for dignity and income once they start getting a few gigs. I think a lot of people in highly educated circles take this for granted. But, it’s not something that’s taught in school and, among more working class demographics, many will have little experience with self-employment, so it can be pretty intimidating to get into. 

So, vocational training in self-employment could potentially make a big difference for access and inclusion into workforce recovery

Question: What policies should be created to provide a safety net and sense of stability for gig workers?

Answer: This is a question I feel strongly about. No one really knows what policies might end up being the best for gig workers and other independent contractors. Policymakers have a bias towards doing big, splashy programs before they are thoroughly tested and often end up coercing companies into backing ideas that they would sooner test out in the field before applying statewide. 

I’ve written about ways to pilot ideas. One way is to cooperatively work with local agencies on “innovation zones,” which temporarily reduce regulation around a certain idea so that they can be tested. For instance, they could provide free education to gig workers, which is otherwise illegal because tech companies can’t provide education to contractors without running afoul of classification rules.

Have questions? Send them my way.