Gig work and insecure income harmful to US workers health

Insecure income associated with non-traditional employment known as ‘gig work’ has a negative impact on the overall health and wellbeing of US workers, according to a new study by researchers at UTHealth Houston.

The research will be published in the September edition of Social Science & Medicine.

Gig work includes employment where people are paid by the piece of completed work, by the hour, or by the day, rather than a traditional employer-employee relationship. Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, and Handy are examples of gig companies, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In the UK gig work is common in the adult care sector, where it has been blamed for driving down staff pay and care standards.

Using data from the 2008-2019 IPUMS Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, UTHealth School of Public Health researchers found that insecure income from gig work contributed to poor health outcomes among the US workforce, including a sicker workforce, higher unreimbursed healthcare costs, and greater costs to the consumer.

man in black jacket and black pants holding green and white book

Key findings include:

· Insecure income earners reported a 50% increase in poor overall health and psychological distress compared to salary earners

· The poor health effects of piece work were somewhat eased on workers when accounting for socioeconomic factors, but the trend of increased health risks remained constant, especially for women, those with less than a college degree, financially poorer workers, and non-white-collar worker

· Black and Hispanic workers earning insecure income were more likely to report poor health than their white counterparts

· Higher rates of hourly pay reduced, but did not remove, the correlation between insecure income and workers’ health

The study comes at a time when gig companies are pushing to classify workers as independent contractors, rather than employees, in state courts and legislatures in California, Massachusetts and elsewhere in the US.

While the paper used pre-Covid data, the researchers say their findings suggest that Covid-era gig workers will likely see an even greater increase in poor overall health and psychological distress.

‘The longer-term economic burden will ultimately be passed onto the US consumer as we see increases in worker shortages, increases in prices from gig companies, and increases in unreimbursed health care utilisation,’ Thomas said. ‘It is reasonable to project that the US taxpayer will pay more for uninsured chronic morbidity care of uninsured US workers who are paid an insecure income.’

Photo by Carl Campbell


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