The Gig is Up: The Disjunction of Gig Economy Labor and the American Welfare State


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Virginia Tech


The gig economy has rapidly become something of a phenomenon in the digital economy today. New firms are quickly being added to this digital market ecosphere and the business model has garnered the attention of the business and investor communities as a new organizational alternative to standard hierarchies. However this new business model also poses substantial problems for its workers, who as independent contractors are not afforded the benefits or rights of the welfare state that are granted to employees. As the gig economy continues to achieve financial success and holds a more prominent place in our labor force, the precarious state of gig labor is becoming an increasingly political problem. This thesis explores the present state of labor in the gig economy by situating it within the context of welfare state scholarship. I examine how the inner mechanics of the gig economy operate, as well as examine the structures of the American welfare state that create this dualist divide between contractors and employees. I argue that welfare state scholarship demonstrates a path by which gig laborers and gig firms can form cross class alliances that can help develop new welfare state policies to improve gig worker conditions and be supported by gig firms themselves.



Gig Economy, Welfare States, Dualism, Labor Rights, Portable Benefits