- With gig work serving as a major contributor to the labor market, cities are looking for new ways to support hourly workers. Long Beach, California, has emerged as a leader, launching the nation’s first government-run gig work platform in 2020, according to a Brookings Institution report earlier this month.
- Through the Long Beach program, would-be workers register with the local workforce board, which vets them and sets them up with a local nonprofit employer that serves as an intermediary between these workers and people who request their services.
- Organizations in other cities are now considering launching their own pilot programs based on the Long Beach model.
In 2021, the Pew Research Center estimated that 16% of Americans had earned money through apps such as Uber, Grubhub or TaskRabbit. At best, these arrangements offer flexibility for people to take jobs when they have time and on their own terms. At worst, they offer no job security and few protections or benefits.
“We’re not putting the genie back in the bottle,” said Xavier de Souza Briggs, a senior fellow at Brookings Metro and an author of the report. “Our economy is changing in very fundamental ways.”
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Long Beach public workforce board Pacific Gateway launched a pilot program to help people find affordable in-home child care through an online platform that connects would-be employers and workers based on their hourly availability, skills, licenses and comfort with different types of tasks and travel.
The city has since committed additional funding for the WorkLB program, and now, any local agency can book hourly workers spanning the health, recreation, education and other fields. It’s also opened doors for workers to find hourly employment in the private sector through the same platform.
Other cities are taking note. With support from the nonprofit investor The Workers Lab, organizations in Chicago; Portland, Oregon; Oakland, California; Louisville, Kentucky; and southern Indiana are looking to launch pilot programs for gig workers based partly on the Long Beach model. Briggs said those programs would likely differ based on local demographics and workforce dynamics, but the biggest challenge is having enough seed money to launch these platforms and successfully advertise them to local employers and workers.
“That upfront bet to give this a try, offer a new option, do some learning around it, is the single most important thing — and our major public systems cannot afford that right now,” Briggs said.
Beyond finding the cash to cover their pilots, city and state leaders can support these initiatives by shifting their local economic and employment goals away from getting people into full-time work and toward accommodating workers who want or need more flexibility, he added.
“Americans across lines of the political spectrum believe that you don't need to choose between an economy that provides a range of services and flexible ways [of working] on one hand, and workers being treated decently on the other,” Briggs said. “The modernizing of these exchanges … offers a way to accomplish both.”