Jobs report shows strong employment growth but many still choosing gig economy

The U.S. labor market is again showing signs of resilience and unexpected strength amid other economic clouds. The latest report found job growth higher than expected in April with 253,000 new jobs spread throughout many sectors of the economy. Paul Solman looks at the newest data and how that squares with the growth of the gig economy.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Good evening, and welcome to the "NewsHour."

    The U.S. labor market is again showing its resilience amid other economic obstacles, including recent banking failures. The latest jobs report found job growth was higher than expected last month, with 253,000 new jobs spread throughout many sectors of the economy. The unemployment rate dipped to 3.4 percent, matching the lowest rate since 1969.

    Paul Solman looks at the newest data and how robust job growth squares with the expansion of the gig economy.

  • Nela Richardson, ADP Research Institute:

    That 253,000 jobs created is really, really solid.

  • Paul Solman:

    In fact, say economists like Nela Richardson, the latest jobs data came in strong, despite a downward revision of jobs created in the previous two months.

  • Nela Richardson:

    More people came into the labor market, and so that helped boost supply and was met by strong hiring demand from companies. Good, solid job gains matched with moderating wage growth, that's good news for the economy and for inflation.

  • Paul Solman:

    Not particularly good news for workers, concerned their wage growth isn't keeping pace with inflation, right?

  • Nela Richardson:

    Actually, as inflation has come down, the wage growth we're seeing has at least edged out inflation over the last couple of months.

    But you are absolutely right. And so the issue is, how do you get wage growth to not to decelerate more quickly than inflation comes down?

  • Paul Solman:

    The logic, modest wage growth lowers what companies can charge and expectations of future inflation, which, eventually, the Fed and the rest of us hope, drives inflation below wage growth.

  • But a question:

    With unemployment so low, how come the gig work force remains so high?

  • Economist Katharine Abraham:

    Katharine Abraham, Former Commissioner, Bureau of Labor Statistics: A lot of people who talk about the gig economy are really thinking about just platform work, Uber, Lyft.

  • Paul Solman:

    Just a few million Americans.

  • Katharine Abraham:

    But it's actually much bigger then that. There are many more people, maybe on the order of as many as 14, 15 percent of the work force, who are working as self-employed, independent contractors, doing a whole variety of things.

  • Paul Solman:

    That would be more than 20 million of us. And talk about a variety of things.

  • Lindsay Ferguson, Gig Worker:

    I grow and sell medicinal herbs and flowers.

  • Paul Solman:

    And that's not 38-year old Lindsay Ferguson's sole side hustle.

  • Lindsay Ferguson:

    I perform in the Bay Area with various dance troupes. I perform burlesque. I'm getting into drag performance, and I take photos of myself. I'm a model. And I sell those shots online for money.

    Kathy Kristof, Founder, Editor, and CEO, Pretty much anything you can do in the regular economy, you can do in the gig economy.

  • Paul Solman:

    Kathy Kristof runs, which hooks up freelancers with gigs.

  • Kathy Kristof:

    You can make money playing games. There's a Web site that will allow you to take in other people's laundry. Almost any service you can provide, there's an online platform that will help you market that service.

  • Paul Solman:

    And supplement income from your regular job, assuming you have one.

  • Lindsay Ferguson:

    All of the full-time work that I do and the side hustles that I do does not keep up with the rate of inflation, which is why I need to supplement my full-time money with the various gigs that I do.

  • Paul Solman:

    Spencer Cohen is a gig puppeteer.

  • Spencer Cohen, Gig Worker:

    I work full-time for a nonprofit agency right outside of New York City. And, on the side, I'm a freelance puppeteer.

  • Paul Solman:

    And that's why your arm is fuzzy there?

  • Spencer Cohen:

    Yes, I have got one of my puppets right here.

    Hi, there. My name is Gary J. Platypus.

  • Paul Solman:

    Nice to meet you.

    Cohen is among the few who makes enough at his day job. His side hustle is for fun. But why do millions of workers continue to rely on gig work exclusively with all the job signs out there? Flexibility, says food delivery driver Shirley Cox.

  • Shirley Cox, Gig Worker:

    I don't have a 9:00-to-5:00. I can work at 1:00 a.m. if I need to or I can do extra hours on the weekends. Those are the advantages.

  • Paul Solman:

    But, says Cox:

  • Shirley Cox:

    The market has gotten very saturated. You have to work more hours than I did initially to make the amount I did before.

  • Paul Solman:

    In fact, Cox has cut back on her hours. Why?

  • Shirley Cox:

    I'm just in the process of looking for work. And so that takes up a lot of time. Job hunting is a job in itself.

  • Paul Solman:

    Cox's search fits with the most recent data Anna Zhou at Bank of America has seen.

    Anna Zhou, Economist, Bank of America: A decline in terms of people doing these type of gig jobs over the last 12 months.

  • Paul Solman:

    What is going on?

  • Anna Zhou:

    They might be rotating into more traditional jobs. So think about, they might be working in a clothing store in a mall now, instead of driving deliveries, right?

  • Paul Solman:

    But there are still plenty gig workers out there, says economist Paul Oyer, an authority on the subject.

  • Paul Oyer, Stanford University:

    There are long-term trends in the gig economy, and those continue to be the same as they have been for a long time. And that is slow and steady growth as more workers want flexibility and as more firms want flexibility too.

  • Paul Solman:

    Which is how Nela Richardson sums up the gig economy.

  • Nela Richardson:

    It allows people to add on to employment if they need the money, to make that employment flexible. And so there is right now a symbiotic relationship between what companies need right now and what gig workers are able to provide.

  • Paul Solman:

    That and the need of so many Americans for side hustles in a high inflation economy, like Lindsay Ferguson.

  • Lindsay Ferguson:

    At the end of the month, I lose my full-time job, which is rent money, but also my health insurance, which is why I'm doing everything I can to schedule my dental cleanings and my blood panels while I still have coverage, because, come the end of the month, I lose my full-time job.

  • Paul Solman:

    And finds herself back, like about a third of all gig workers, with side hustles as the only income she's got.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," Paul Solman.

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