Five years ago, R Street’s R.J. Lehmann published the study “6 Charts that Debunk the ‘Gig’ Economy,” debunking many common narratives in articles bemoaning the rise of the gig or cobbled-together part-time work economy. In the half-decade since, sensationalist headlines haven’t died down. But the story my colleague told then has more or less continued apace. Despite the rise of easily accessible, app-based jobs, America has not seen a boom in the number of people working in various categories of part-time employment. This bears out in data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which document a world where gig work is roughly as or less common than it’s been in the past.

Figure 1: Part-time workforce as percent of nonagricultural total

SOURCE: R Street analysis of BLS data

The part-time workforce continues to shrink as a share of total workers. Coming down from recession highs, there’s no evidence that the availability of gig work has coincided with an increase in the amount of part-time work.

Figure 2: Percent of part-time workers citing economic reasons

SOURCE: R Street analysis of BLS data

The number of people involuntarily working part-time has followed a similar trend, descending to levels not seen since the ‘90s boom years. If the availability of gig work has changed the nature of the labor force, it hasn’t done so by pushing people involuntarily into part-time work.

Figure 3: Involuntary part-time as percent of workforce

SOURCE: R Street analysis of BLS data

Similarly, the percentage of the workforce involuntarily working part time is barely one-third the level it was at the beginning of the last decade. Gig work hasn’t been the powerful force of labor displacement in the macroeconomy it was once purported to be.

Figure 4: Self-employed as percent of nonagricultural workforce

SOURCE: R Street analysis of BLS data

Nor has the rise of gig work caused a spike in self-employment. Rather, the percentage of people working for themselves is at a generational low point.

Figure 5: Percent of private workforce employed at firms with 1-4 employees

SOURCE: R Street analysis of BLS data

The same narrative bears out in BLS data on firm size. The percentage of firms that employ 1-4 people has been shrinking for a decade. The rise of gig labor has not been substantial enough to offset a general decline in very small businesses.

Figure 6: Percent of private workforce employed at firms with 500+ employees

SOURCE: R Street analysis of BLS data

At the same time, the percentage of the workforce working for large and very large firms has continued to grow, as it has for most of the last three decades. Gig work has not caused displacement from large firms to small firms and self-employment.

Image credit:  SFIO CRACHO