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More Governments Turning to Gig Economy for Help

A new survey provides a look at how states and localities are using gig workers.

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(Flickr/Elvert Barnes)
Whether it’s hailing a ride or finding help with home improvement projects, the gig economy is slowly transforming the way a lot of work gets done. It’s hardly surprising, then, that governments have started to rely more on these workers, too.

A new national survey from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence provides the first-ever snapshot of the gig economy’s developing role in the public sector. It suggests that while only a few governments have started hiring gig workers, they’re already plugging some staffing holes in nearly every segment of the public workforce. “It’s an emerging issue and is one there has not been much attention paid to,” says Gerald Young, a senior research associate at the center.

Gig economy and temp workers are most commonly employed in office and administrative support functions, with 20 percent of states and localities surveyed indicating their use. Other positions more frequently filled with these workers include accounting, cleaning and maintenance work.

A small number of governments have further tapped the gig economy to help carry out various information technology activities, understandable given the high degree of specialization in the field. “IT support used to be something you needed to have entirely in house,” Young says. “There are a lot more opportunities for IT support to be cloud-based or temporary.”

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Turning to the gig economy could help governments overcome a number of staffing pressures they’re currently contending with. A strong economy has led many employees to seek employment outside the public sector. About 34 percent of governments reported more employees left their positions without retiring last year, while only 13 percent experienced declines over the year.

States and localities further continue to lose significant numbers of their most experienced employees to retirement. The survey found that only 21 percent of governments were seeing their retirement-eligible employees postponing retirement dates, a figure that’s steadily declined for several years. 

There are still a lot of unknowns given that utilizing the gig economy is a relatively new practice for governments. Agencies often must comply with rules and regulations around hiring staff or issuing contracts, so it’s unclear whether these would apply to smaller tasks completed by gig workers. It’s also uncertain how cost-effective gig hiring is for governments and how their roles affect full-time staff.

If one thing is for certain, it’s that the gig economy will continue to grow, creating more potential opportunities for governments to meet staffing needs. A report from Intuit and Emergent Research estimates 3.7 million Americans worked on-demand jobs in 2016. By 2021, that number is projected to rise to 9.2 million workers.

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