Senator Warner Addresses the Opportunities and Challenges of the 'Sharing Economy'
Senator Warner is committed to exploring the 21st century generational and technological changes and how they’ve led to perhaps the most dramatic transformation in the American economy in decades. Whether by economic necessity or by choice, as many as one-third of American workers now find themselves working in the “on-demand,” “sharing” or “gig” economy.
Today, online platforms such as Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit and Etsy can provide granularity in matching supply and demand for things many people may never have thought about monetizing before: A spare room. A ride in a family car. Free time.
The changing employee-employer dynamic of the “gig economy” poses both opportunities and challenges for the American worker, allowing freedom and flexibility of hours. But many of these on-demand jobs do not provide traditional safety net protections for workers: unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation for injuries, or pension and retirement planning.
Senator Warner is committed to putting forward practical solutions to keep up with this fundamental shift in the economy and to make the on-demand economy work better for more people.
Senator Warner’s Progress:
- Senator Warner delivered a speech at MIT's On-Demand Economy Conference on March 14 that is available here.
- Senator Warner believes that we need better data about how many people are part of the gig economy. On September 1, Senator Warner asked the U.S. Secretaries of Treasury, Commerce and Labor to assess existing tax, census, and labor survey data to see if federal officials can generate better information about the size, scope, and growth in the number of Americans participating in the on-demand, or sharing, economy.
- He has urged Congressional appropriators to include more funding for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data about the contingent workforce and the on-demand economy. On January 25, 2016, the Department of Labor announced it would launch a new round of the Contingent Worker Supplement (CWS) to the Current Population Survey (CPS) – the gold standard of measuring who is doing what in the American workforce – for the first time since 2005.
- Senator Warner wrote to the Secretary of Labor, urging the Department to include questions that will tell us more about who and how workers participate in the on-demand economy.
- Senator Warner has hosted a series of roundtables and reached out to thousands of Virginians in order to hear how the gig economy is working for them.
- Senator Warner’s op-ed “Asking the tough questions on the Gig Economy” ran in the Washington Post on June 19, 2015. Additionally, Senator Warner's op-ed "Making the on-demand economy work better for more people" ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on June 25, 2015.
- In June 2015, Senator Warner delivered the first significant speech of any Washington D.C. policymaker on the potential impact of generational and technological changes on the American economy.
- Senator Warner participated in a TEDx talk about how policymakers can embrace the on-demand economy.
Senator Warner knows that this fundamental shift would have never happened without innovation and entrepreneurs. Senator Warner remains committed to supporting entrepreneurs and start-ups, which drive innovation and create jobs for Virginians.
- Senator Warner led a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing the Start-Up Act to jumpstart investment and job creation by new businesses. The bipartisan legislation makes a series of targeted proposals in tax, regulatory and immigration policy.
While technological innovation has spurred the exponential growth of the on-demand workforce, Senator Warner knows that not everyone has access to this online economy. Senator Warner is working on policies to expand wireless broadband, especially in rural areas, to improve access to the gig economy.
- On June 8, Senator Warner joined a bipartisan effort to ensure the federal government prioritizes high-speed broadband access for rural Americans.
- On June 17, Senator Warner led a group of six senators urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enact policies in 2016 that encourage expanded wireless broadband deployment in underserved and unserved areas of the country, increase quality and service, and improve cost competition in rural and urban areas alike.
- Senator Warner’s provision to protect federal funding to expand access to rural broadband was included in the 2014 Farm Bill.
College Affordability and Student Debt:
We cannot forget the opportunity costs of this generation’s combined $1.2 trillion in student debt, which is limiting options for an entire generation of young workers. Senator Warner knows that many millennials and Gen X-ers have joined the gig economy to supplement their income in order to pay back massive student loans. Senator Warner knows that part of the solution needs to be easing the burden of student debt and making higher education more affordable.
- Senator Warner has introduced a series of bipartisan bills that ease the burden of student debt and make higher education more affordable.
Here's what they're saying:
The explosion of startups such as Uber and TaskRabbit is creating a new army of workers, many of them from the Millennial generation, who cobble together freelance gigs and contract work to earn a living — and that is raising new questions for policymakers.
"This next generation, where they are in the 'sharing economy,' the Millennials, 80 million strong, they have no safety net at all: no unemployment, no workman's comp, no disability," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told Capital Download. "Somebody may be doing very, very well as an Etsy seller and Airbnb user and Uber driver and part-time consultant ... but if they hit a rough patch, they have nothing to stop them until they fall, frankly, back upon government assistance programs."
READ MORE: USAtoday.com
In a speech at the New America Foundation in early June urging action on supporting the so-called "gig economy," Senator Mark Warner seized on just this point: "It’s fairly stunning to me," he said, "that this much transformation has already taken place but virtually nobody in Washington is starting to ask the policy questions."
READ MORE: FastCompany.com
Style Weekly: What Happens When the "Gig" Economy Crashes?
This is exactly why Warner’s points are important. What happens when a Gig worker driving an Uber cab or doing various jobs through TaskRabbit suddenly becomes sick or injured? What happens when tens of thousands of them become sick or injured?
If they don’t have insurance, they’ll likely end up in an emergency room at taxpayers’ expense. Of course, the taxpayer and the employer hadn’t been bothered with paying for this -- at least at the front end. But they will pay on the back end, and that’s Warner’s warning.
READ MORE: StyleWeekly.com
The Virginian Pilot: Warner's Warning: Jobs in 'Gig Economy' Come With Perils
At issue: the rise of what is dubbed the "gig economy" or "sharing economy," involving tens of millions of millennial workers - ages 18 to 34 - who increasingly are turning to independent or freelance work that offers income but no benefits.
They are part of a growing army of freelancers of all stripes who work for cash, share and trade their skills and cobble together various gigs to make a living.
"It is the fastest-growing part of our economy," Warner said.
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.
READ MORE: PilotOnline.com
The Virginian-Pilot: Warner makes pitch to protect "gig economy" freelance workers
Washington Post: How Congress can make life better for Uber drivers
National Journal: Sen. Mark Warner Wants Washington to Catch Up With the Sharing Economy