U.S. Sen. Mark Warner today delivered perhaps the first significant speech of any Washington, D.C. policymaker on the potential impact of generational and technological changes on the American economy. Warner, a former business executive, says the surge of younger “millennial” workers, combined with easier access to digital platforms and mobile apps, has triggered fundamental changes in how, when, and where people work.
“They monetize their skills, working as ‘hired guns’ for businesses that need specialized work but don't have - or want - a full-time employee. Some do it on their own, using LinkedIn or other online networks to seek out prospective customers,’ The Norfolk, Va. Virginian Pilot reported. ‘Many others work through a growing numbers of Web-based middlemen, stringing together a number of jobs or activities to make a living. There's no formal employer, or employee. No job security or benefits.…’The problem is, this is all fine and well - until it's not,’ Warner said. ‘If you have no social insurance and all of sudden you go from 100 grand to nothing and you've got no unemployment... you're going to end up falling back upon the responsibility of the state.’"
Up to one-third of the U.S. workforce now pieces together a series of on-demand jobs instead of being tied to a traditional 9-to-5 employer – and that disconnect leaves on-demand workers vulnerable since they lack access to programs such as unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and retirement planning, Sen. Warner said.
“As Web-based businesses such as Uber and Handy create loyal fans in the D.C. region and across the country, the independent contractors they employ have helped create one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy. Yet Congress has been almost entirely silent on the emergence of a vulnerable workforce unprotected by traditional benefits,” The Washington Post reports. “Mark Warner is trying to fill the void, marrying his party’s current focus on income inequality to his own obsession with technology and financial policy… Warner plans to jump-start a discussion about how the tax code, the social safety net, labor regulations and even small-business grants might need to change in order to help part-time cab drivers, house-cleaning crews or deliverymen who take their assignments online.”
“This is a tidal change in the relationship between an individual and the workplace,” Sen. Warner said. “It’s stunning that nobody in Washington is talking about this.”