2018年01月19日

Crowd work: The rise of unstable work and potential measures to prevent the proliferation of the working poor

生活研究部 主任研究員・ヘルスケアリサーチセンター・ジェロントロジー推進室兼任   金 明中

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Recently, phrases like “gig economy” and “crowd worker” are commonly used in mass media. “Crowd work” refers to work—often one-off projects—that is assigned and submitted through a platform on the Internet. The name of this way of working and the name of the workers performing these jobs have not yet been integrated. As such, there are many terms referring to crowd work and crowd workers, including crowd sourcing, sharing economy, human crowd, digital work, gig economy, and freelance. In most industries, wages, paid vacation, public social insurance benefits, and fringe benefits are provided to employees as a compensation for working set hours. Crowd workers, who do not have continuous projects and set hours, however, do not receive these benefits. Thus, their income is likely to be unsteady, and therefore, this way of working is unstable.
 

The current situation of cloud workers in the U.S. and Europe

The current situation of crowd workers in the U.S. and Europe

Though the number of crowd workers in developed countries like the U.S., France, the U.K. and Germany has been increasing, there is limited official data available on their numbers. We must therefore rely on the results of surveys conducted by private companies, NPO, and researchers to analyze trends in the crowd work industry.

Additionally, it is difficult to compare the data because the available data differs depending on the country. According to the survey “Freelancing in America: 2016”, conducted by Upwork , formerly Elance-oDesk,which is a global freelancing platform Union, the number of freelancers in the U.S. was 55 million in 2016. This reflects an increase of 2 million from 2014, and means that freelancers account for 35% of the entire U.S. workforce. The survey also forecasts that freelance will be responsible for about 50% of the whole workforce by 2020.

No longer just a label for journalists and photographers, the term “freelancer” is now understood to apply to a wide variety of careers, including bloggers, designers, Youtubers, and IT engineers. A main difference between the present day’s freelancers and those of the past is that most of the workers seek their work through Internet platforms. Therefore, it can be said that an increase in freelancers leads to growth in the number of crowd workers.
 
While a lack of data also makes it difficult to evaluate the crowd work industry in Europe, an Internet survey conducted by Ursula Huws and Simon Joyce at the University of Hertfordshire in February 2016 provides some insights into crowd work in the U.K., Germany, and Sweden. The survey shows that 11% of respondents in the U.K., 12% in Sweden, and 14% in Germany regard them as crowd workers. Respondents, who are 34 or younger, identify as crowd workers at a higher rate (Figure 1). 
Figure 1 Distribution of crowd workers by age group
While the number of crowd workers is increasing, their income level remains low. For instance, 42% of U.K. respondents, who identified themselves as crowd workers, reported annual earnings of less than £20,000, which is well below the average annual salary of £27,271 for employees in the UK. Moreover, in Germany, more than 80% of crowd workers reported an income level below €36,000. Given that the average annual salary in Germany is €47,748, it can be said that many crowd workers take on low-paid and unsteady work. Further, their actual income is more likely to be lower as they must pay all expenses for their work out-of-pocket.
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生活研究部   主任研究員・ヘルスケアリサーチセンター・ジェロントロジー推進室兼任

金 明中 (きむ みょんじゅん)

研究・専門分野
労働経済学、社会保障論、日・韓における社会政策や経済の比較分析

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