Labor Market Engineers: Redefining Labor Market Intermediaries with the Rise of the Gig Industry

Authors: Ashley Baber*, Loyola University Chicago
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: labor, gig economy, labor market intermediation
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 16
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Labor market precarity has become a growing reality for many workers across the United States. ‘Traditional’ jobs in the labor market are becoming increasingly less available and replaced by more ‘flexible’ forms of labor. The contingent section of the labor market has been rising since the 1970’s and spans from low-paid sectors such as day laborers and trade workers, to more specialized workers within the white-collar or tech industries. Recently, newer forms of contingent labor have emerged in the form of the ‘gig’ industry. Operating primarily through app or internet based platforms, customers seeking on-demand services are put in direct contact with available workers. I argue that the functionality of the ‘gig’ industry parallels the temporary help industry and that both function as labor market intermediaries (LMIs). This paper details the rise of flexible labor in the United States, draws parallels between the temp and gig industries and describes the interventionist history and present of both industries on regulatory frameworks. In doing so, this paper argues that the current understanding of LMIs should be updated to describe the relationship of these industries to both the worker and the labor market as a whole. Building on the work of labor market intermediation scholars, I develop a new description termed labor market engineers (LMEs) by pointing to five mutually reinforcing features. LMEs intervene from both above and below by seeking opportunity out of a failing labor market and extracting profit from vulnerable workers while simultaneously interfering and manipulating labor market regulations.

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