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Plutocratic Insurgency Note 11: Low-Paid, Part-Time, “Gig Economy” as a New Involuntary Labor Model
Pamela Ligouri Bunker and Robert J. Bunker
A modern miracle related to the effects of the globalized economy upon the United States and the United Kingdom is the fact that we are now witnessing the lowest levels of unemployment seen in almost a generation in the U.S. (since 2001) and two generations in the UK (since 1971). On the surface, while such low levels of unemployment may appear to represent the triumph of unfettered capitalism and the belief in the benefits of a globalized—and supranational—liberal economic order, something far more ominous for the Western middle classes is taking place. Full-time jobs with benefits and secure retirement packages are increasingly being replaced with low-paid and part-time “gig economy” positions as a new involuntary labor model. This labor model not only benefits predatory (i.e. hyper efficient extractive) capitalism but may also be considered a component of the larger transition to human worker replacement by robotic automation and artificial intelligence (AI) systems and the continued hollowing out of the Western welfare state by the plutocratic class.
Key Information: Jim Edwards, “Unemployment is low only because ‘involuntary’ part-time work is high.” Business Insider. 27 January 2019, :
• Unemployment is at record lows in both the UK and the US.
• But “involuntary” part-time work is at least 40% higher in both countries than it was 10 years ago.
• The structure of the labour market has fundamentally changed, and what we used to think of as “unemployment” has been replaced by mass part-time work, much of it unwanted.
• “Gig economy” jobs are to blame, according to Rob Valletta of the San Francisco Fed.
Britain just notched up yet another record-breaking low for unemployment, according to the government. Unemployment stayed at just 4%, while the number of people with jobs rose to 32.54 million, or 75.8%, “the highest since comparable estimates began in 1971,” according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics.
But once again, the monthly jobs tally eclipsed how that miracle was achieved. “Headline” unemployment is only at a record low because of a 42% increase in the number of people who are in “involuntary” part-time work.
Since 2006, the number of people in “involuntary” part-time work has risen from 620,000 to 881,000 today—an increase of 42%. ONS
“Involuntary” means they’re only working part-time because they cannot get a full-time job…
Here is the situation in America.
Involuntary part-time work is probably 40% higher than “normal” in the US.
“During early 2018, involuntary part-time work was running nearly a percentage point higher than its level the last time the unemployment rate was 4.1%, in August 2000,” according to Rob Valletta, a vice president in the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. “This represents about 1.4 million additional individuals who are stuck in part-time jobs. These numbers imply that the level of IPT work is about 40% higher than would normally be expected at this point in the economic expansion.”
Mass unemployment — the historic kind, with dole queues, unemployment benefits, and idle workers on street corners — has been replaced by low-paid, part-time, “gig economy” or “zero-hours” contract work…
Key Information: Macy Bayern, “How the gig economy will change in 2019.” TechRepublic. 12 December 2018, :
The gig economy is type of employment made up of independent workers, who typically engage in short-term job positions. Freelancers, Uber drivers, Airbnb hosts, and more, make up this new wave of employment, one in which employees are free to make their own schedules, be their own bosses, and work where they want.
More than one-third (36%) of US workers are a part of the gig economy, totaling to about 57 million people, according to Forbes (). While the gig economy used to be a way to make ends meet in-between traditional jobs, workers are starting to morph the gig economy into full-time professions.
“People realize that the dynamics, when it comes to the workforce, are changing. In the next 10 years, 25% of the jobs will not exist anymore,” said Marcos Jacober (), CEO of Life Hacks Wealth. “At first, people saw that as an opportunity to make a side gig, but it actually came and replaced the old part-time job. People realized that this is actually kind of cool, not to have a boss. I can be managing my own hours, I can make extra cash. So they migrate to that, and it is now the new trend for 2019. This is a very lucrative business.”
This way of work is especially popular with younger crowds, said Matthew Guarini, research director serving CIO professionals at Forrester. Nearly half (46%) () of Generation Z workers are freelancers, a number that is only expected to grow as nearly 61 million Gen Zers come into the workforce in the next couple years.
However, the gig economy has the potential to change even more as more people adopt the gig mindset, said Jacober. And more companies are going to start catering to gig employees, added Guarini.
Here are the three biggest shifts the gig economy will see in 2019:
1. More companies will jump on the gig economy bandwagon…
2. Positions will target selective problems…
3. A change in mentality…
Key Information: Nicole Torres, “Are There Good Jobs in the Gig Economy?” Harvard Business Review. July-August 2018 Issue, :
There’s no denying the growth of the gig economy. Economists estimate that the portion of U.S. workers earning a living as independent contractors, freelancers, temps, and on-call employees jumped from 10% in 2005 to nearly 16% in 2015, and the trend shows little sign of slowing. Advocates of these “alternative work arrangements”—many of which are enabled by sharing or on-demand apps such as Uber and TaskRabbit—bill them as a way to trade unemployment, burnout, or hating one’s job for freedom, flexibility, and financial gains. Skeptics, meanwhile, point to the costly trade-offs: unstable earnings, few or no benefits, reduced job security, and stalled career advancement.
But what do the gig workers themselves say? Gigged, a new book by Sarah Kessler, an editor at Quartz, focuses on their perspective. In profiling a variety of people in contingent jobs—from a 28-year-old waiter and Uber driver in Kansas City, to a 24-year-old programmer who quit his New York office job to join Gigster, to a 30-something mother in Canada who is earning money through Mechanical Turk—Kessler illuminates a great divide: For people with desirable skills, the gig economy often permits a more engaging, entrepreneurial lifestyle; but for the unskilled who turn to such work out of necessity, it’s merely “the best of bad options.” Financial insecurity is a big and ever-present concern. So is the lack of human connection: When you’re managed by an algorithm that sends notifications to your phone, it becomes harder to build relationships with bosses or even fellow employees—relationships that can help you advocate for better working conditions. Kessler writes, “I don’t think Silicon Valley was wrong to attempt to restructure the job. Our current model wasn’t working, and the startup spirit of experimentation was necessary. But attempting to tackle the problems of the job…without fixing the support structures around it can’t quite count as progress, and it certainly doesn’t look like innovation.”
That tension is also a central theme of Temp, a forthcoming book that explains our new world of work. Author Louis Hyman, a Cornell professor and economic historian, notes that in America traditional organizations began moving away from offers of full-time employment and toward more-flexible short-term staffing jobs as a result of both new management ideas (such as the Lean Revolution) and changing values (such as prioritizing short-term profits). This restructuring of the workforce was facilitated, he emphasizes, by management consultants, who believed that “the long hours, the tensions, the uncertainty were all a perfectly reasonable way to work,” and by temp agencies, which created pools of standby, on-demand labor. By the 1980s temps were providing not emergency help but cyclical replacement.
Hyman’s stats are striking: By 1988 about nine-tenths of businesses were using temp labor; since 1991 every economic downturn has meant a permanent loss of jobs; by 1995, 85% of companies were “outsourcing all or part of at least one business function.” And, Hyman notes, most of the affected employees fall on the wrong side of the divide Kessler describes: They became temps and “gig workers” owing to events beyond their control, such as elimination of full-time positions—with their secure paychecks and perks.
Although Hyman does seem to hold out hope for this new era of employment—“The gig economy might have the best of both worlds: the autonomy and independence of an economy before wage labor, but with individuals possessed of the productive capacity of an industrial economy”—he also argues that the only sustainable path forward is to somehow reconnect temp workers to the support they once got from full-time jobs. That could come through either portable benefits (which he thinks are feasible) or a universal benefits system (which he thinks is not). “Americans need life security,” he writes, “not job security.”
Another new book offers a similar message but begins in a very different place. In Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber, a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, lambastes today’s corporations for engaging in “ruthless downsizing…layoffs and speed-ups,” which “invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing, and maintaining things.” Even worse: As the doers among us are pushed into tenuous, low-paid, benefit-less gig work, somehow “the number of salaried paper pushers ultimately seems to expand.” …
Key Information: Abha Bhattarai, “Now hiring, for a one-day job: the gig economy hits retail.” The Washington Post. 4 May 2018, :
…The gig economy is clocking in to retailers and restaurants.
The unemployment rate is at a 17-year low, but stagnant wages, chronic underemployment and growing inequality are leading more Americans to take on so-called side hustles. Some want to supplement their incomes. Others are just trying to eke out a living. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans now earn money from the digital “platform economy,” according to the Pew Research Center. Most of that work is for domestic tasks, such as housecleaning and repairs, or driving for companies such as Uber.
By moving into shops and cafes, on-demand work stands to reshape a broader slice of the U.S. economy. There are implications for low-wage workers, too, as a new class of employers fills its labor pool with on-call temp workers. Retail and hospitality — which accounts for 20 percent of U.S. positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — is the on-ramp for many employees to better jobs. But the sector is also pinched by rising minimum wages and health-care costs, and employers are seeking more flexible work arrangements that respond to the ebbs and flows of their businesses.
But labor experts say companies such as Snag Work could set a dangerous precedent. Employers are already wary of hiring full- time employees because of overtime and health-care costs, they say, and having a pool of potential gig workers at the ready could make matters worse for those seeking the stability, benefits and protections that come with full-time work.
“We’re seeing only one trend here, which is that the gig economy is big and getting bigger,” said Diane Mulcahy, a lecturer at Babson College and author of “The Gig Economy.” “Companies will do just about anything to avoid hiring full-time employees. Add to that the fact that there is no job security anymore, and workers are increasingly aware that they need to work differently if they want to create any sort of stability for themselves.”
Snag Work and other new platforms are the go-betweens, allowing users to pick up open shifts from retailers, restaurants and hotels that have gaps in their schedules. Wonolo, which bills itself as 40 percent cheaper than traditional temporary staffing companies, counts Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Papa John’s Pizza among its clients. Other start-ups include AllWork and Coople…
Key Information: Patrick Gillespie, “America’s part-time worker problem is permanent, San Francisco Fed says.” CNN. 11 April 2018, :
The US job market is one of the bright spots in the global economy. America has millions of new jobs, falling unemployment and even some nascent signs of growing paychecks.
One problem persists: A historically high number of Americans have part-time jobs, but want full-time positions.
Economists long argued that the trend, known as "involuntary part-time," was temporary. But it now appears to be a permanent problem, according to a blog post published Wednesday by the San Francisco Federal Reserve.
“In the absence of public policies aimed directly at altering work schedules, it looks like higher rates of involuntary part-time work are here to stay,” San Francisco Fed economist Rob Valletta wrote.
With the current unemployment rate of 4.1%, the number of involuntary part-timers should be much lower. But it’s 40% higher now than it was when unemployment was last that low in 2000. That group does not include people who work part-time because they want to.
Nearly nine years after the Great Recession ended, there are still more involuntary part-time workers than there were before the crisis began, according to the Labor Department.
Some experts outside the Fed call it because the extra hours workers want go unpaid. Workers as “dead ends” with high demands from employers and low pay.
A surge of job growth in recent years at restaurants, bars, retail stores and freelance gigs has pushed more Americans into part-time work, according to Valletta.
There were 5 million involuntary part-timers in March. In 2006, despite a higher unemployment rate than today, there were a million fewer part-timers…
Who: Labor (human workers) in the United States and the United Kingdom unable to get full-time employment positions with benefits that allow for upward economic mobility.
What: The replacement of full-time workers enjoying higher wages, medical and retirement benefits, and job security with part-time (temporary or “gig”) workers who are lower paid, have no benefits, and have no job security. This can be considered a new involuntary labor model which has turned American and United Kingdom workers into ‘disposable commodities’ that can be utilized as needed and then abandoned.
When: An upward trend since the 1980s with temporary workers shifting from emergency labor to cyclical labor to a permanent condition—with the elimination of more and more full-time positions—over the course of the last thirty-five years. This trend has steadily increased over the last decade.
Where: Principally seen within the United States and the United Kingdom but this new labor model is spreading to other post-industrial Western states.
Why: By eliminating full-time positions, corporations do not have to pay higher salaried wages and benefits and can hire and fire employees at will which gives them fast market reaction versatility allowing for business costs to be lowered, profits to be increased, and new opportunities to be maximized. While the use of temporary workers is also said to allow corporations to better utilize ‘high maintenance’ Generation Zers who have been socialized to work as freelancers but this socialization process was originally a result of corporate practices themselves as a component of their own ‘just-in-time’ efficiency methods. Just as only enough inventory is kept on hand by corporations to aggressively minimize costs so too does at will contract labor (human workers).
Analysis: The part-time work force in America is said to have reached over one third of US workers according to an August 2018 Forbes article:
More than one third (36 percent) of U.S. workers are in the gig economy, which works out to a very large number of approximately 57 million people.
This part-time employment trending in the UK is not so nearly as advanced but has seen a 42% increase to 881,000 workers from March 2006—enough to change the UK unemployment levels from 4% to 7% if underemployment levels are figured into this statistic.
US underemployment levels are striking the younger Generation Z workers the hardest with nearly half of them (46%) working in the ‘gig economy’. Such “involuntary part-time” employment has become recognized as a permanent problem—rather than a temporary one—per a Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco post in April 2018.
Part-time (“gig”) contract workers provide corporations and their well-heeled plutocratic shareholders with numerous economic advantages over full-time benefit workers from a predatory capitalist perspective. Such ‘throw-away labor’ is ultimately utilized to maximize the profit line of corporations in the United States, and increasingly the United Kingdom, within the larger and hyper-competitive globalized economy. Rather than being a stand-alone trending data point, it should be considered to exist within the larger context of evolving Western economic phases and labor models (See Table 1).
Two contemporary economic and labor phases can be said to have existed for the US and the UK since post World War II—with an emergent phase now in the offing. The initial phase beginning in roughly 1945 and extending into the 1970s can generally be considered the heyday of the modern industrial welfare state. Full-time employment of blue and increasingly white-collar workers with health and retirement benefits represented the archetype supported by strong labor unions. Economic elites were kept in check by high levels of taxation for societal redistribution purposes—a lesson learned from the extreme measure of political influence and economic excesses which took place during the earlier Gilded Age and well into the late 1920s which contributed to a global depression. This labor model existed within the context of the prevailing form of state moderated capitalism that was in play which resulted in the rise of a robust middle class in the US and the UK. Strong democratic representation was the order of the day with the Tories and Labour in the UK and Republicans and Democrats in the US not always ideologically agreeing on policies but able to mutually enact centrist legislation that keep the majority of their citizenry relatively franchised. The dominant insurgency form of this era was politically based and Maoist in its revolutionary tradition.
The second contemporary economic and labor phase—that of industrial deconstruction and informational transition—roughly spans the 1980s through the 2010s; the recent here and now. This phase has witnessed the rise of the part-time (no benefits or job security) worker employment model. Along with this deconstruction process—which saw the emergence of rust belts and communities within these states—came the decline in the strength (and political influence) of labor unions. This shifting labor model has taken place within the greater context of the ongoing compression of the middle class structure in both America and the United Kingdom with the loss of living wage blue and white-collar jobs. The accelerating forces of globalization have also resulted in a ‘winner take all’ form of predatory capitalism emerging in the West (and in fact globally) that has increasingly polarized wealth between the economic haves and have nots. With the loss of the socio-economic middle class buffer, political fragmentation of the dominant party structures in both the US and the UK has taken place. One component of this fragmentation has been the election of the populist Trump administration in the US that is the antithesis of many Republication party values—a party that merely served as an expedient political vessel for its ascendancy. During this era, the dominant types of insurgency have shifted away from the political (e.g. Maoist revolutionary) to religious (e.g. spiritual, primarily radical Islamist) and commercial (criminal and plutocratic variant) forms.
The emergent economic and labor phase of the 2020s and beyond is still relatively opaque, however, one component of it is already clear. Robotics and AI systems are increasingly being utilized in economic production with the projection that more and more human jobs will be replaced by these advanced technologies and manufacturing processes. This will result in the loss of full time jobs as a cost saving measure by corporations seeking to squeeze out more profits. In all likelihood, part-time employment levels will further increase as a result, only serving to further cull the middle class in America and the United Kingdom. What is more speculative are the attributes of this emergent phase. From a status quo perspective, the pre-existing ones will initially extend along their present trajectories, however, they will then begin to deviate as new governmental and non-state actor policies and economic and social class structures begin to form. For instance, increasing wealth polarization in the Western states—along with high levels of public and private mass citizenry debt—is unsustainable  and will either result in the creation of new top down national governmental policies and/or bottom up street level societal protest and unrest in response. Some sort of 3rd party political realignment in the US may also be expected with independent voters—representing a ‘void party’—now becoming the largest political bloc. Additionally, concern exists that an authoritarian insurgent form (representative of a fusion of plutocratic and criminal insurgency components) will develop with China, and potentially Russia, utilizing it to further undermine the Western liberal democracies and their allies.
In retrospect, the increasing permanent use of part-time employees in the US and UK to the detriment of full time employee positions should on its own be cause for consternation. However, when considered within the larger context of broader economic and class structure changes taking place in the West, these changes portend the increasing compression of the middle class and the ascendancy of plutocratic interests within Western states as they further transition from industrial to post-industrial (informational) based economic production. The burning question now is whether the middle class citizenry of the US and the UK go quietly into the night or if they will begin to flex what electoral influence they still retain in order to enact more fair and equitable national wealth redistributive policies vis-à-vis the growing power and influence of the plutocratic class.
Macy Bayern, “How the gig economy will change in 2019.” TechRepublic. 12 December 2018, .
Abha Bhattarai, “Now hiring, for a one-day job: the gig economy hits retail.” The Washington Post. 4 May 2018, .
Jim Edwards, “Unemployment is low only because ‘involuntary’ part-time work is high.” Business Insider. 27 January 2019,
Patrick Gillespie, “America’s part-time worker problem is permanent, San Francisco Fed says.” CNN. 11 April 2018, .
Nicole Torres, “Are There Good Jobs in the Gig Economy?” Harvard Business Review. July-August 2018 Issue, .
 Jim Edwards, “Unemployment is low only because ‘involuntary’ part-time work is high.” Business Insider. 27 January 2019, Abha Bhattarai, “Now hiring, for a one-day job: the gig economy hits retail.” The Washington Post. 4 May 2018, .
 Robert J. Bunker and Pamela Ligouri Bunker, “Plutocratic Insurgency Note No. 3: No Shoring: Job Obsolescence Via Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics.” Small Wars Journal. 22 February 2017, .
 John Robb, “Onward to a Hollow State.” Global Guerrillas. 22 September 2008, and his follow on “Hollow State” writings.
 T.J. McCue, “57 Million U.S. Workers Are Part Of The Gig Economy.” Forbes. 31 August 2018, . Still determining such part-time employment numbers can be problematic. Economists of one 2016 study had to downgrade their findings. See Lydia DePillis, “There are fewer gig jobs than you
think. Economists walk back study that showed huge increase.” CNN. 10 January 2019, .
 Jim Edwards, “Unemployment is low only because ‘involuntary’ part-time work is high.” Business Insider.
 Marc Bayern, “How the gig economy is fundamentally changing the next generation of work.” TechRepublic. 28 September 2018, .
 Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, “Involuntary Part-Time Work: Yes, It’s Here to Stay.” SF Fed Blog. 11 April 2018, .
 Mao Zedong, On Guerrilla Warfare. Translated by Samuel Griffith. Champaign, IL: Illinois University Press, 2000 (1937 Original Chinese publication).
 See, for instance, Mark Abadi, “Income Inequality Is Growing Across the U.S. — Here’s How Bad it Is In Every State.” Money. 21 March 2018, and Matt Egan, “Record inequality: The top 1% controls 38.6% of America’s wealth.” CNN. 27 September 2017, .
 For the basis of the commercial and spiritual insurgency projections, see Steven Metz, The Future of Insurgency. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 1 December 1993, .
 Courtney Connley, “Robots may replace 800 million workers by 2030. These skills will keep you employed.” CNBC. 30 November 2017, . A more recent study suggests this trend may take place at a slower pace than initially projected. See Suzie Dundas, “Robots Replacing Humans In Manufacturing? Not So Fast, New Study Says.” Forbes. 12 November 2018, .
 See, for instance, Liz Alderman, “Europe’s Middle Class Is Shrinking. Spain Bears Much of the Pain.” The New York Times. 14 February 2019, . and Carlos Vacas-Soriano and Enrique Fernández-Macías, “Europe’s shrinking middle class.” Eurofound. 23 Juni 2017,
 The US national debt is now $22 trillion; Bill Chappell, “U.S. National Debt Hits Record $22 Trillion.” NPR. 13 February 2019, . and the UK “General government gross debt was £1,763.8 billion at the end of the financial year ending March 2018, equivalent to 85.4% of gross domestic product (GDP)”; “UK government debt and deficit: September 2018.” Office for National Standards. 17 January 2019, . Concerning US private debt; “U.S. household debt rises to $13.3 trillion in second quarter.” Reuters. 14 August 2018,
Anand Giridharadas, . New York: Knopf, 2018.
David Graeber, . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.
Louis Hyman, . New York: Viking, 2018.
Sarah Kessler, . New York: Saint Martin’s Press, 2018.
Alissa Quart, . New York: Ecco, 2018.
Andrew Yang, . New York: Hachette Books, 2018.
All opinions are strictly those of the authors and in no way reflect the viewpoints of any U.S. Governmental, academic, or corporate entity.