How a Rise in Independent Work Is Benefitting Women

COMMENTARY Jobs and Labor

How a Rise in Independent Work Is Benefitting Women

Sep 30th, 2020 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Rachel Greszler

Research Fellow in Economics, Budget and Entitlements

Rachel researches and analyzes taxes, Social Security, disability insurance, and pensions to promote economic growth.
Women have worked hard to gain more flexibility and independence over their work. Maskot/Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Somewhere between 25 percent and 35 percent of U.S. workers participate in independent work in some capacity.

Many women are also taking advantage of independent work to earn supplemental income—the so-called “side hustle.”

Policymakers should focus on opening doors to work, instead of enacting barriers to flexible income opportunities.

A 9-to-5 job, reporting to a boss is not for everyone. For those of us who have young children at home, it can be difficult to hold down a traditional job—especially if that job doesn’t provide much flexibility.

I know a lot of women who left their 9-to-5 jobs after becoming mothers. But many have since found flexible work that meets their families’ needs and desires—be it by editing articles from home, starting an interior design business, delivering for Instacart, or using UpWork to find consulting gigs.

They are not alone. Somewhere between 25 percent and 35 percent of U.S. workers participate in independent work in some capacity.

While independent work used to be reserved for highly educated individuals like doctors, lawyers, and accountants, the increasingly service-oriented economy and technological innovations that connect workers with individuals and companies desiring their services has helped make independent work possible for all types of workers.

According to the UpWork’s Freelancing in America 2019 report, individuals without a high school degree or less are now just as likely (35%) as those with some college (35%) or a college degree (33%) to freelance.

Independent work also used to be dominated by men. But women are closing that gap.

According to FreshBooks’ Women in the Independent Workforce Annual Report from 2019, the women’s share of self-employed and small business owners jumped from about 25% in 2012 to 34% in 2019.

Monica Wyman is one such woman. As a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, Monica struggled to find work until she landed a job at a floral shop. That opportunity propelled Monica to start her own business, RSVP Floral Designs. In turn, she hired other moms to help out with big events.

Many women are also taking advantage of independent work to earn supplemental income—the so-called “side hustle.”

A red Mercedes-driving grandmother in San Antonio explained to my colleague that she was driving for an Uber as a way to earn extra money to help send her grandchildren to parochial school.  

The flexibility and on-demand work provided through app-based platforms—a feature that Uber drivers value at over 40% of their earnings—can be especially valuable to women.

Brought about by workers’ desires and a tight-labor market, flexibility was already on the rise prior to COVID-19. Now, the pandemic has drastically accelerated that trend.

The COVID-19 pandemic, with its ensuing job losses, health concerns, and limited in-person school options, could also cause more women to shift to independent work.

That could be a good thing.

The overwhelming majority of women who have taken the plunge from traditional employment to independent work, say they have a better work-life balance (73%) and they earn as much or more (68%) as when they were formally employed. Moreover, most say they have less stress (59%) and better health (57%).

But there’s a real and growing threat to independent work.

In California, policymakers enacted a law—AB5—that effectively outlaws many types of independent work.

That law is threatening the survival of Monica Wyman’s floral business by preventing her from being able to hire freelance workers. As Monica (a breast cancer survivor) explained, “I have another major surgery coming up in just two weeks. I don’t get to hire in someone to fill in for me. I should not have to close my business because I can’t hire in extra help on occasion—that’s really unfair.”

Thousands of other Californians have either left the state, closed up shop, or are struggling to maintain their livelihoods because of this unjust crackdown on workers who want to be their own bosses.

Speaking of AB5, Monica Wyman said it “literally rips the opportunity out of our hands to be able to work. It dictates when you will work, who you will work for. There is no freedom of choice in that.”

A federal proposal—the PRO Act—would be even more detrimental than California’s AB5 law. In addition to lacking numerous exemptions that AB5 provides, the PRO Act would take away workers’ rights such as secret ballot union elections, eliminate their privacy protections, and overturn 27 states’ right-to-work laws. Though not yet enacted into law, The PRO Act passed the House of Representatives earlier this year.

Women have worked hard to gain more flexibility and independence over their work. To protect these freedoms and enable more opportunities for women, policymakers should focus on opening doors to work, instead of enacting barriers to flexible income opportunities.

This piece originally appeared in Smart Women Smart Money