A few weeks ago, I wrote an article in Huffington Post for those aspiring to take advantage of, or curious about, the additional income opportunities now available thanks to the digital age of technology. “Download an app, enter some information and images and we’re in business”―so the article started. While doing research for the article, there seemed to be a lack of data on the actual impact of the gig economy; the experts acknowledged a shift to contract work―yet it was somewhat unquantifiable.

On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal previewed research on the gig economy, and more importantly, the increasingly pervasive effects of the shift to “alternative work.” This is the first time the data has been updated since 2005 (the same year that YouTube was launched).

Alternative Work, the Gig Economy, and the Impact

The Department of Labor breaks down “alternative work” into four categories: Independent contractors, on-call, temp, and employees of contract firms. The updated statistics are below. According to the Krueger and Katz research, “only 600,000 people, or less than 0.5% of the workforce,” make up the workers in the ‘gig economy.’

The Gig Economy Stats
Most of the shift occurs “offline” and within very traditional sectors. The new research shows that the shift to alternative work impacts key industries, such as manufacturing, health, education, and public administration. In addition, the research indicates a dramatic shift for women. Ten years ago, 12% of male workers held alternative jobs (such as construction, transportation, etc.) compared to 8% of female workers. Krueger and Katz found that today approximately 17% of women and 15% of men hold similar alternative jobs.

For women, this is a complex statistic. Women starting families are more likely to leave jobs due to the lack of flexibility offered by employers. A 2015 Wall Street Journal article cited “A college-educated woman who turned forty-three in 2013 was a few percentage points less likely to work than a woman who turned forty-three in 2003.”[i] Women seeking flexibility can be willing candidates to participate in the “Alternative Work” economy.

As this new work economy gains momentum, more people are creating additional revenue streams to supplement their incomes. The gig economy is 600,000 strong, yet the direct selling industry boasts over eighteen million distributors in the U.S. alone. Not since the Great Recession has the industry seen such substantial growth.

Direct Selling and the Gig EconomyAs the gig economy grows, there are lessons to be learned from how the direct sales industry continues to grow and retain its independent workforce. As Jonathan Friedman pointed out in his 2015 Venture Beat article, gig companies attract customer demand from headquarters where the direct sales company’s representatives are “at the center of their business model” and therefore are constantly creating new and improved opportunities for them to succeed. And, thanks to advancing technology, the direct selling industry is moving more into the consumer mainstream. Many of these direct selling companies have been featured on television and are active sponsors of sports teams and athletes in addition to becoming a welcomed alternative to today’s retail experience.

So what does all this mean? The paradigm is shifting. What you, your colleagues, and peers have been experiencing is not unique; it’s the evolution of the American workforce and workplace. Whether you look at this shift as the glass half full or half empty will depend on how you intend to approach the situation in relation to your own personal and professional goals.

Today, it’s easier than ever before to start your own business, freelance with companies all over the world, or freshen up the skills you already have so you can grow with the company with which you are currently employed. It is, truly, up to you.