Pushes for better data collection on scope and characteristics of on-demand workforce as part of May 2017 contingent worker survey
Feb 02 2016
WASHINGTON – Last week, Secretary Thomas Perez announced that the Department of Labor (DoL) would relaunch the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Contingent Worker and Alternative Work Arrangement Supplement (CWS) to the Current Population Survey (CPS) in May 2017. The survey, which is considered the gold standard of measuring who is doing what in the American workforce, has not collected data about the size and scope of the contingent workforce since 2005. Since then, the federal government has struggled to keep up with an explosion in new technology and on-demand platforms allowing individuals to monetize their time, skills, cars and spare rooms in ways that have fundamentally altered this sector of the American labor force.
U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), who previously applauded last Monday’s announcement by DoL, has spent the last year urging for the collection of better, more accurate data about who and how workers are participating in the on-demand or “gig” economy. Today he wrote to Secretary Perez, urging DoL to ensure that this new round of the CWS include questions designed to get at the ways in which workers participate in the on-demand economy, their demographic and geographic characteristics, and level of access to benefits traditionally associated with full-time employment, such as health coverage, unemployment insurance, and retirement savings, among other issues.
“Over the last year, it has become clear to me that we need more accurate data about how and why workers are participating in the on-demand economy, which is why I fought to increase funding for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the appropriations process and have expressed my strong support for a revival of the CWS. Without it we cannot effectively respond to the unique policy needs of this new workforce,” wrote Sen. Warner. “As you prepare for a new round of the CWS, I ask that you keep the on-demand economy in mind.”
In September 2015, Sen. Warner asked the U.S. secretaries of Treasury, Commerce, and Labor to assess existing tax, Census, and labor survey tools to see whether they might generate better and more relevant information about the size, scope, and characteristics of the millions of Americans who are choosing to participate in the on-demand economy. Their responses confirmed that the most timely and effective way to gather relevant data to help policymakers understand and better facilitate this increasingly significant and growing on-demand workforce is to relaunch the CWS to the Current Population Survey.
Estimates have found that as few as three million Americans and as many as 50 million are part of the on-demand or contingent workforce.? An April 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office noted that the contingent workforce is a significant and growing portion of the American economy, and better data could guide policymakers in developing smarter policies for the new economy. The GAO has noted that while other surveys offer additional insight about the contingent workforce, the CWS is the most statistically robust and detailed study of workers in alternative employment arrangements.
The full text of today’s letter is below.
February 2, 2016
The Honorable Thomas Perez
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20210
Dear Secretary Perez:
I was pleased to hear that the Department of Labor will launch a new round of the Contingent Worker and Alternative Work Arrangement Supplement (CWS) to the Current Population Survey (CPS). The last time the CWS was conducted was more than a decade ago. Since then, new technologies and on-demand platforms have allowed people to monetize their time, skills, cars, and spare rooms in ways that have fundamentally changed the way we access alternative work arrangements.
Over the last year, it has become clear to me that we need more accurate data about how and why workers are participating in the on-demand economy, which is why I fought to increase funding for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the appropriations process and have expressed my strong support for a revival of the CWS. Without it we cannot effectively respond to the unique policy needs of this new workforce. As you prepare for a new round of the CWS, I ask that you keep the on-demand economy in mind. It is my hope that the results will provide us with a general understanding of the size and scope of its population, as well as insight into the following:
- Along with collecting information on contingent workers, the 2005 CWS identified workers by their alternative work arrangement status. Electronic on-demand platforms provide new and innovative ways for workers to engage in alternative work. Would you consider updating the categorizations of alternative work arrangements to include work accessed specifically through these platforms?
- It is important that we understand the various ways in which workers participate in the on-demand economy. Those with full-time jobs may regularly or intermittently seek out additional “gigs” to supplement their income, while others may earn income solely from this kind of work. How many workers fall into these various categories? What percentage of total income is earned via the on-demand economy? Are workers engaging in on-demand work to take advantage of the flexibility it offers, or out of economic necessity? How many hours per week, or per month, do on-demand workers put toward their “gigs”? What percentage of on-demand workers perform work through multiple on-demand platforms?
- What percentage of on-demand workers has access to health coverage, unemployment insurance, retirement savings, and other benefits typically associated with an employer? For each of these benefits, what percentage of the total cost does the individual worker pay for? What percentage of this population receives benefits through a family member?
- How confident are on-demand workers in their understanding of the tax implications of this kind of work? Are workers aware of their tax filing requirements?
- Access to an on-demand platform or other alternative work arrangement varies greatly depending on a worker’s location. What is the size of the on-demand economy in different geographical regions, including states, counties, and metropolitan statistical areas?
- What are the demographic characteristics of those participating in the on-demand economy, including age, race, gender, educational attainment, and income level?
- What percentage of on-demand workers have their work determined by algorithmic scheduling? For those who use it, do on-demand workers believe this scheduling system provides them sufficient flexibility, or does it present challenges to their work?
I respectfully ask that you consider these issues, and the rising importance of the on-demand workforce generally, as you formulate the next round of the CWS. I look forward to continuing to working with you on this important issue, and to seeing the results of the May 2017 CPS.
Mark R. Warner