Just as workers left the plow for the assembly line, they are now leaving the cubicle for the coffee shop. Here's what Washington needs to know--and what it needs to do.
About 150 years ago, American workers began a profound shift from farms to factories. After suffering through poor work conditions, low pay, and no workplace protections, the workers organized and successfully helped build the framework of laws that became known as FDR's New Deal. This landmark legislation from the 1930s protected workers and supported labor unions by limiting the number of hours that could be worked and setting a baseline minimum pay. But from a larger perspective, the New Deal demonstrated that government had acknowledged the shift in the U.S. workforce, heard their voice, and created a new system in which they could thrive.
Now we find ourselves in the middle of an equally large transition: just as workers left the plow for the assembly line, they are now leaving the cubicle for the coffee shop. Welcome to the Gig Economy, where over 42 million Americans are working independently - as freelancers, part-timers, consultants, contractors, and the self-employed. They are simultaneously holding multiple jobs, working for different employers, and mastering diverse skills. They are accountants and fashion designers and website architects. And, they are completely left out of the New Deal, which protects the rest of the workforce.
[Read Horowitz' first column "The Freelance Surge is the Industrial Revolution of Our Time" ]
If the New Deal had evolved to meet the ever-expanding U.S. workforce, then independent workers would have access to unemployment insurance, affordable health insurance, protection from discrimination, and guaranteed payment for their work. Instead, New Deal protections are stuck in the last century, and those basic needs are out of reach for one-third of the workforce. But we can't simply extend the New Deal to include all workers. Instead, the New Deal must be updated to reflect this new reality. A "new" New Deal will require creating a completely new paradigm for worker supports and building completely new systems for those supports.