Skip to main content

What’s Trending in Gig Employment

Posted on March 04, 2019

Millions of American workers no longer have traditional, full-time, year-round employment. Instead, they’re joining the ‘gig’ economy—stringing together various jobs to make ends meet.

Today’s WatchBlog discusses what is and isn’t known about this evolving group of nontraditional workers. Read on and listen to our podcast with Cindy Brown Barnes, a director in our Education, Workforce, and Income Security team, to learn more.



A venn diagram explaining the definitions of the BLS


What is gig employment?

There is no federal definition of gig employment. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics measures the number of workers in 3 categories that we collectively refer to as “nontraditional workers”:

  • Contingent —temporary workers
  • Alternative—independent contractors, on-call workers, or temp agency workers
  • Electronically-mediated—workers who get gigs through websites or mobile apps

Some workers can fall into more than one of these categories. For instance, someone who drives for a ride-share company while waiting to start a new job would be considered both contingent and electronically-mediated.


Figure Showing Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Definitions of Contingent, Alternative, and Electronically-Mediated Employment Overlap


BLS surveys may not accurately measure gig employment

BLS conducts surveys to track trends among nontraditional workers. In its 2017 survey, BLS found fewer contingent—or temporary—workers than in its 2005 survey. However, it stands to reason that there should have been an increase in contingent workers during those 12 years due to the recent rise in “electronically-mediated” employment, such as ride-sharing. So, the survey may be missing some key parts of the evolving labor market.

BLS did add four questions to the 2017 survey to try to capture people who find jobs on websites and apps. However, there were issues with many of the responses to these new questions and it’s unclear whether the data is accurate.

We also found that BLS’s 2017 survey data only measured workers’ main jobs for contingent and alternative employment. So, BLS could be undercounting workers that use these positions as side jobs. The survey also only asked respondents about their work in the past week and may not have captured supplemental and occasional work.


Adjusting the survey

BLS is working on getting a better picture of nontraditional employment. It enlisted help from an expert national statistics committee to evaluate the survey and design a new survey supplement, which should be done March 2020.

To read more about what we found, check out our recent report.


Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact


GAO Contacts

Oliver Richard
Oliver Richard
Chief Economist

Related Products

About Watchblog

GAO's mission is to provide Congress with fact-based, nonpartisan information that can help improve federal government performance and ensure accountability for the benefit of the American people. GAO launched its WatchBlog in January, 2014, as part of its continuing effort to reach its audiences—Congress and the American people—where they are currently looking for information.

The blog format allows GAO to provide a little more context about its work than it can offer on its other social media platforms. Posts will tie GAO work to current events and the news; show how GAO’s work is affecting agencies or legislation; highlight reports, testimonies, and issue areas where GAO does work; and provide information about GAO itself, among other things.

Please send any feedback on GAO's WatchBlog to