A workforce that that’s built on flexibility and experimentation sounds ideal. People could work a job for as long as they need. They could parcel out their labor into a traditional nine-to-five, or work a few hours, leaving themselves time to do with as they see fit. Flexible work could help tackle questions of how best to keep parents of young children, adult children of aging parents, and seniors in the workforce in a sustainable way. But while some American jobs have moved toward a system that allows workers and companies greater latitude, the policies at work in the American economy have remained decidedly rigid.
That mismatch is dangerous for workers and their families. In America, crucial benefits, like medical care, retirement savings, unemployment insurance, and disability benefits remain largely tethered to traditional jobs.
The problem isn’t just relevant to those current working in the gig economy, it points to a larger issue: the failings of both the government and private sector to update and reinvent the way workers succeed in the U.S. economy, said Senator Mark Warner of Virginia at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.
While jobs at Uber, TaskRabbit, and a host of other sharing-style companies are what might be top of mind, there are plenty of older, traditional industries that are now also employing workers on a less than full-time basis, such as manufacturing. “Everybody now has career paths that are different than their dads were, everyone needs portable benefits, not just sharing economy workers,” said Steve Case, the entrepreneur, chiming in from the audience. On top of the challenges of finding benefits, these workers also face a lack of ongoing investment in the furthering of their careers from both their employers and the government.