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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Piecing It Together: The Gig Economy And The American Worker

Alexander Oganezov
Some people use the gig economy to moonlight. For others, it's their primary source of income.

The traditional career at a single company with a pension and retirement is rare these days. For many, it's about piecing together part time or temp jobs to pay the bills.

Recently on Think, host Krys Boyd spoke to professor of economic history Louis Hyman about how we got to a gig economy.

Interview Highlights

On whether the gig economy is a source of extra, or essential money: “Where do we draw that line between supplementary and primary income? And certainly the language of how temps have been talked about since the very first days of women in white gloves going in to type up some extra forms, has been about this question of supplement. That their work doesn’t matter, it’s moonlighting, it’s extra money for that luxury good. And that’s all well and good as long as you do have enough to live. But for many people, about half of all the freelancers, this is how they are making their money, this is how they are earning their rent and paying for their kids shoes. And this is the world in which that is not guaranteed.”

On the reality of manufacturing’s history: “It’s easy to forget that manufacturing jobs for which we are now nostalgic, were terrible jobs for most of their history. For 100 years before the postwar period, manufacturing jobs were where you went to get exploited and not well paid and maybe to lose an arm. And it’s only in the postwar period that we begin to make them work for everybody. To turn productivity gains into the ranch house and the garage and the boat and the two kids and the spouse."

On the changing face of economic security: "In the book I write about how it’s very similar to marriage. It’s gone from being the normal experience of most people to being a pretty exceptional experience and pretty class stratified. And it’s very similar in that way to economic security, where economy security went from being something that even working class people could enjoy to really being the province of the top 20 percent of Americans.”

Louis Hyman is the author of "Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary."Listen to the complete conversation here.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.