Data and Research

Contingent Workers Desire Better Retirement Benefits

The increased visibility and flexibility of gig work in everyday life has brought contingent workers into the spotlight, along with their desire for better access to retirement savings and health benefits. 

By John Manganaro | October 03, 2016
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A report published by the Brookings Institution, “Retirement Plans for Contingent Workers: Issues and Options,” suggests Americans who have embraced alternative work arrangements are still substantially underserved by traditional financial services firms.

The white paper was penned by William Gale, Sarah Holmes, and David John, and it opens by documenting the rise of the so-called gig economy, “which allows people to hail cabs through Uber, find household help through TaskRabbit, and book lodging through Airbnb, among other applications.” According to the analysis, the latest iteration of gig work is notable because many of the opportunities for workers involve personal services conducted outside of a traditional workplace and with a substantial degree of freedom over hours and schedules.

The increased visibility and flexibility of gig work in everyday life has “brought contingent workers into the spotlight,” the researchers suggest. Yet, it should also be remembered that a broad class of “contingent workers” has always constituted a significant part of the U.S. labor force—one that has not been a big focus for benefits providers.

“Similar issues have been present for the last several decades at least,” the authors suggest, “as employers have substituted independent contractors or firms employing them for traditional employees. Few of these workers receive health or retirement benefits, and as a group, they are often overlooked in policy debates.”

More than anything, the group of contingent workers is diverse, and not all of them struggle with financial stability. The gig economy includes people of all income levels and fields of occupation.

“The sector includes full-time workers as well as part-time or seasonal workers,” the research observes. “It includes white-collar consultants and independent contractors, some of whom are highly paid, as well as blue-collar workers such as printers, security guards, maintenance professionals and factory workers, a significant number of whom were once regular employees. Some contingent workers, including many in the gig economy, also work in traditional jobs and use contingent work to supplement their other earnings. Some people do contingent work because they cannot find traditional employment, while others choose it because they prefer the flexibility of the hours or other aspects of the job.”

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