America's social safety net is failing workers in the 'gig economy'

People who lose full-time jobs aren't the only unemployed Americans who need help

(Image credit: (AP Photo/Seth Perlman))

The advantages borne of technology and the necessity borne of recession have brought a number of changes to our economy, and there's been no shortage of attempts to apply a name to the results. It's been called the sharing economy, the gig economy, the instant gratification economy — but whatever handle you apply, what we're talking about is a system that (often digitally) connects people who need cash to other people who need something, be it an apartment for the weekend, a ride to the store, their oven cleaned, or their groceries picked up. What gets lost in many of these attempts at cute nomenclature, however, is that this new and growing part of the economy is succeeding because, as Kevin Roose points out in New York, so many people are struggling.

Those hustling to scrape together a living in the gig economy are hardly alone. The long-term unemployment crisis in the United States often seems to have slipped off the general public's radar. But while policymakers like Paul Ryan debut shiny new initiatives to end poverty by pushing the poor to make better plans and set goals (and punishing them if they don't), millions remain involuntarily out of work or only partially employed, and there continue to be more than two people looking for work for each job opening.

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Sarah Jaffe is a staff writer at In These Times and the co-host of Dissent magazine's Belabored podcast. Her writing on labor, politics, the economy, and pop culture has been published at The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, The American Prospect and many other publications. You can find her work and more at