If the Job Market Is So Good, Why Is Gig Work Thriving?

Under this approach, while offering the flexibility of gig work, the staffing agencies usually serve as the employer and administer benefits. Workers are paid as W-2 employees, not independent contractors, which means that they’re still protected by federal labor laws and elements of the social safety net, including workers’ compensation in the event of an injury.

Snagajob, an hourly work platform, says that those shifts tripled from 2020 to 2021, and that they will probably quintuple in 2022 — mostly as side income because people’s regular jobs weren’t sufficient.

“I think if they were getting the ultimate flexibility and all the compensation they wanted from their full-time employer, there’s probably less of a need for shifts,” said Snagajob’s chief executive, Mathieu Stevenson. “But the reality is, at the overwhelming majority of businesses, you can’t offer as much flexibility. So this is a way to say, ‘If you do want to add an extra $150 because you need it, whether because you want to do something special with your family or you need to pay the light bill, this is an avenue.’”

More so than online gig jobs, it can also be a springboard to other opportunities.

It worked for Silvia Valladares, 24, who started picking up Snagajob shifts a few years ago to support herself as a college student studying fine arts in Richmond, Va., the company’s initial market. Dishwashing and catering at different places allowed her to fit work in between her classes. But while working at an event venue called Dover Hall, she took a shine to hospitality, and decided to make that her career.

“I got to know the regular staff and the management, and they got to know me,” Ms. Valladares said. “Eventually I asked if I could just work here, and they just put me on the regular staff.” Now, as bed-and-breakfast director, she’s the one posting gigs on Snagajob — which lately have been filling quickly.

Worker advocates say allowing many competing employers to post last-minute shifts through an intermediary is probably a better model than a world of platforms that change rates at will and lack many of the legal obligations that employers must meet. But they say it still leaves workers on the margins of the labor market. Research on labor outsourcing has generally shown that temp workers are compensated less generously than co-workers who are hired directly.

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