Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research and frequent contributor, responds to a business media narrative he has continued to see growing since writing about it earlier this year: a narrative that suggests most independent workers in the on-demand economy are displeased with their work, or worse, are exploited. Such a narrative is contradicted by the research Emergent and others have conducted, writes King. As he noted in his earlier article,  “The accurate view is this: Independent work is good for most and bad for many, a view that rarely shows up in the media.”

On-demand economy backlash

It seems like every time I turn on my computer, I see another story about how bad on-demand economy jobs are. Even entertainment news is joining the bandwagon with coverage of a taxi-driver protesting during Thursday’s taping of Stephen Colbert’s interview with the CEO of Uber.

To be fair, not all on-demand economy workers are positive about their work. There’s also clearly a dark side of independent work. Better laws and protections are needed to improve the working conditions of independent workers being exploited or treated unfairly.

Even the research Emergent has conducted with on-demand economy workers has revealed that a sizable share—about 30 percent—aren’t satisfied and would prefer a traditional job. This group is larger—around 55 percent—among those working full-time in the on-demand economy.

So, yes,  I understand there is truth to the reporting: There are problems that need to be fixed.

But there is a bigger truth that is not reflected in this reporting: Most on-demand economy workers have a positive view towards what they do.

Critics are missing two important points

Despite the emerging conventional narrative that suggests all on-demand economy workers are unhappy, the reality is different:

  1. Research on this sector—Emergent’s and the research of others—consistently reveals that the majority of on-demand workers are satisfied and prefer their on-demand work over a traditional full or part-time job.
  2. Most on-demand economy workers are part-time (79 percent according to recent research we conducted with Intuit) and are doing these jobs because they are very flexible.

The upside of the on-demand economy

Several recent responses to the drumbeat of negative coverage provide a balance to the parade of negative punditry.


“Regardless of the concerns of policy-makers, litigators, and lobbyists around worker classification, the on-demand economy is here to stay because of its core benefit—people feel empowered and liberated knowing that they can work when they want to.”

“The other UberX and Lyft drivers had a variety of backgrounds from students, insurance agents and startup employees to former restaurant and retail employees. Their reasons for choosing this on demand career option were similar—the ability to work when and how much they wanted, to not have a boss. They feared being “Instacarted,” if switched to W-2 employees—referring to Instacart’s recent worker reclassification that resulted in restricted and scheduled hours for a low hourly W-2 wage. If this happened, they would stop driving.”


As with any industry, especially early in its formative years, there are unanticipated problems and bad players. Coverage of the downside of the on-demand economy is justifiable and appropriate. However, such coverage should not be limited to the anecdotal examples that are chosen primarily to fit into a narrative that doesn’t necessarily match reality.

The majority of on-demand workers are positive about their work for various reasons. Those who are finding success working in the on-demand economy should have the continued opportunity to choose this path. Their story should be a part of the narrative of what the on-demand economy can provide.

(A version of this post appeared also on

Photo: Thinkstock

Related Articles

Google Testing a Search Tool for the On-Demand Economy

Google is testing a search-engine enabled on-demand marketplace.

Amazon Prime Now Drivers Join in On-Demand Economy Lawsuit Parade is being sued in California courts by former Amazon Prime Now delivery drivers in a proposed class-action suit.

Amazon Moving Ahead of Google in Home Delivery Race, What That Means for Small Business

Amazon Prime Now is in 20 markets compared to Google Express’ seven.

On-demand Economy Participants Typically Work 12 Hours a Week to Augment Household Income

Augmenting their household income is the primary reason independent workers participate in the on-demand economy.

New Small Businesses Are Emerging From the On-demand Economy

The on-demand business model is growing the segment of small business called “sole proprietors” or “single employee” businesses

The Five Faces of the On-Demand (Gig) Workforce

Participants in the on-demand (gig) economy fall into different groups, different motivations and different levels of satisfaction.

Small Businesses Using On-Demand Economy to Access Tech Talent Pool

Because of the wave of on-demand economy companies, even the smallest of small businesses can use an app to connect with independent tech workers.

Yelp Joins Google, Amazon and a Slew of Startups in Home Services On-Demand Marketplace

Yelp adds Request a Quote feature to participating service providers.

Uber Settlement Defines Drivers as Independent Small Businesses, Not Employees

Uber has agreed to a class-action lawsuit settlement with drivers in California and Massachusetts

Shopify’s Ecommerce Merchants Can Now Offer Local, Same-Day Delivery in 200+ U.S. Locations

Ecommerce software provider Shopify is teaming up with on-demand same-day delivery service Postmates.

Uber Didn’t Create the On-Demand Economy, The On-Demand Economy Created Uber

Uber exists because of the growing need for highly flexible part-time work to supplement incomes.

Voters’ Decision Keeps Austin Too Weird For Uber, Lyft

Uber and Lyft, the ride-sharing, on-demand economy companies, lost a key vote by focusing on the wrong messages.

Employers Prefer Full Time Workers, But Agree That On-Demand Economy is Here to Stay | 2016

Employers have a love-hate relationship with the on-demand economy.

The On-Demand Economy Workforce Continues to Expand | 2017

Two-thirds of on-demand economy participants say they are satisfied with their work

HomeAdvisor Buys Angie’s List to Grow its Home Services On-Demand Marketplace

To compete with the giants creating new, on-demand home services marketplaces, HomeAdvisor acquires Angie’s List.

Gallup: Most Employees Who Work Varying Hours Like Their Schedules | 2017

According to Gallup, the majority of employees who work variable hours each week report no problems or financial hardship with the variable hours.

Two Small Business Trends That Contributed to Ikea’s Decision to Buy TaskRabbit | 2017

Are the acquisitions of TaskRabbit and Angie’s List pointing to the consolidation of the gig economy?

How the On-Demand Economy is Changing Insurance Coverage | 2018

The rise of the on-demand (or “gig”) economy is creating new opportunities for creative insurance brokers.

Taskrabbit, IKEA’s Gig-Economy Home Service Marketplace, Gets Hit By Hackers

The on-demand home-service platform acquired last October by Ikea, announced that it has taken down its site and app in order to investigate a cybersecurity incident.

Why the Bureau of Labor Statistics Estimate of Gig Economy Workers Does’t Add Up

The BLS research excludes millions of people who do gig work as moonlighters or as a second job.

‘Last Mile’ On-Demand Delivery Battle Continues to Heat Up | 2018

The need for on-demand grocery delivery services heats up the battle for drivers and new models of work.

Freelancer Marketplace Upwork’s IPO is Another Thumbs-up for On-Demand Economy

Upwork’s initial market capitalization was nearly $1.6 billion.

Food Delivery Services Continue to Expand, Raise Funds

The growth of delivery services will mean more opportunities for small and local food stores and restaurants.

IRS Advice for Gig Economy Small Businesses | 2020

IRS provided advice for participants in the gig economy.

On-Demand (Gig) Economy Tips & Advice From the IRS (2020)

Gig economy income is taxable no matter what the source. This is true if the work is full-time, part-time or if an individual is paid in cash.