Millennials in the Gig Economy

This photo essay features images of millennial freelancers living in Los Angeles, made by photographer Jessica Chou. In her words, here’s how the essay came about:

A full-time job with one employer has been the norm for decades, but in recent years, the gig economy has steadily grown. A study by Intuit predicts that by 2020, 40 percent of the American workforce will be independent contractors. This project explores the everyday lives of young people in Los Angeles working in short-term, temporary positions as freelancers.

To explore the motivations and better understand the circumstances, I photographed people in their 20s and 30s from different cultural and educational backgrounds working on-demand. While individual paths to the gig economy are as unique as the people themselves, the decisions are typically driven by a two factors — the chance to pursue one’s passion or the necessity to make ends meet. In some cases, it can be a combination of both. I’ve found that once they have found this autonomy, the 9- to-5 work life seems less and less attractive.

The gig economy offers a unique opportunity for people looking for purpose in their work. There is the freedom to manage one’s own time, room to explore different work methods to better suit one’s personality, and the ability to provide meaningful contributions to one’s community. There is also the satisfaction through the ownership of the work — the process of investing time and effort results in the building of one’s own business.

On the downside, workers who are full-time independent contractors have little to no social safety nets. Independent contractors assume all risks, so getting sick means losing income. Additionally, all the responsibilities of running a business, like branding, marketing and bookkeeping, are now the sole responsibility of the individual. And with little financial stability, making decisions about the future becomes more difficult.

The gig economy seems to reflect people’s changing values and ideas about priorities in life and work. While greater personal freedom can result in income instability, it also provides an opportunity to shape one’s life in a more profound way. As Mai-Tam Nguyen, a pastry chef from said, “Even if you can make a lot of money, if you are not happy, what is the point?”

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