Wages and many other aspects of employment affect the economic well-being of workers and their families, including hours worked, employee benefits, and work scheduling. In 2017, most adults were optimistic about their future labor market opportunities. Three in 10 adults work in the "gig economy," though generally as a supplemental source of income.
In 2017, 61 percent of adults were employed at some point in the month prior to the survey.18 In their main job, 41 percent of adults were working full time for someone else; 10 percent were working part time for someone else; and 10 percent were self-employed, in a partnership, or a contractor (table 8). Those not working do so for a variety of reasons, including those who are full-time students or retired.
Table 8. Form of employment in main job
|Form of employment||Among adult population||Among workers|
|Full time for someone else||41||67|
|Part time for someone else||10||16|
|For non-economic reasons||7||12|
|For economic reasons||2||4|
|Self-employed or partnership||8||14|
Although most people work consistent hours with one employer, some have more complicated work lives that involve multiple jobs or transitions in and out of employment. This is especially true for the self-employed, among whom one-third were also employed for someone else and one in seven were also not working at least some time in the prior month. Eight percent of the adult population (13 percent of workers) use multiple activities (including working for someone else, self-employed, on layoff, or not employed) to describe their past month.
Among those working part time, economic conditions are often cited as a barrier to full-time employment. One-fourth of part-time workers (2 percent of all adults) indicate that they are working part time for economic reasons.19
Among the two-fifths of adults who were not working at some point in the prior month, 6 in 10 are retired and 1 in 10 have a disability but are not retired.20 Including retirees and those with a disability who were looking for work, nearly 2 in 10 of those who spent time not working had also looked for work.
Other than retirement, child care and other family obligations are the dominant reasons for why
people are not working or are working part time. One-eighth of those not working, and one-fourth of those working part time, cite these reasons (table 9).
Table 9. Reasons for not working or working part time
|Reason||Among non-workers||Among part-time workers|
|Have a disability but not retired||9||n/a n/a|
|Business conditions or lack of work||11||36|
|Child care or family obligations||13||22|
|Reason not specified||7||19|
|Selected multiple reasons||7||22|
Note: Among adults who are either not working or working part time for someone else. For the retired and those with disabilities, other reasons are not considered. With the exception of the retired and those with disabilities, respondents can select multiple answers.
n/a Not applicable.
Those who have been unable to find full-time work due to economic conditions are also more pessimistic about their future job prospects. Overall, 16 percent of non-retired adults in 2017 are pessimistic about their future job opportunities. By comparison, among those working part time for economic reasons, that share rises to 30 percent. Among those who were not working and looking for work, it is 27 percent.
Another way to assess labor market conditions is the frequency at which workers receive raises, voluntarily change jobs, or are laid off. Additional workers asking for raises, receiving raises, or voluntarily changing jobs are indications of a strong labor market where workers have more bargaining power. In 2017, 18 percent of employed workers asked for a raise (table 10)--up slightly from 16 percent in the 2016 survey. Overall, 52 percent of employed workers received a raise in 2017, up from 46 percent in 2016. Consistent with a strengthening labor market, a rising share of adults applied for and started a new job. However, the share that were laid off or fired in 2017 also increased modestly.
Table 10. Employment activities in the past year
|Asked for a raise at work (among currently employed)||16||18|
|Received a raise at work (among currently employed)||46||52|
|Applied for a new job||24||29|
|Started a new job||14||17|
|Voluntarily left a job||10||10|
|Got laid off or fired from a job||4||5|
Note: Among all adults, except for questions about asking for a raise at work and receiving a raise at work, which are asked only of adults who are currently employed. Respondents can select multiple answers.
Additionally, the increased likelihood of receiving a raise relative to 2016 is observed for each education level. For workers with a high school degree or
less, the increase was particularly large. Forty-nine percent of these workers received a raise in 2017, versus 38 percent who received a raise in 2016.
Scheduling and Benefits
Job schedules and notice of shifts can also affect the economic well-being derived from employment. Predictable part-time schedules may even support greater labor force engagement, since the predictability would allow workers to seek additional employment and supplement their income. Three-fourths of workers normally work the same hours each day, 9 percent work schedules that vary at their own request, and 16 percent have schedules that vary by their employers' needs. Many of these workers with irregular schedules would prefer a job with stable pay, even if it paid them less overall (see box 2).
The prevalence of irregular schedules set by employers differs across industries and education levels of the workers. One in 5 workers with a high school degree or less has this variability, compared to 1 in 10 workers with a bachelor's degree or more. Similarly, within the retail, wholesale, food services, and entertainment industries, about one-third of workers have employer-set irregular schedules--approximately twice the rate observed for workers as a whole.21
Among workers whose employer varies their schedule, just over half say that they usually are told the hours that they will work three or fewer days in advance, with 36 percent reporting that their employer usually tells them their hours one day or less in advance, including on-call scheduling. This compares to 15 percent who are given at least three weeks of advance notice (figure 8).
Less-educated workers with irregular schedules also receive less advance notice about their work schedules. Sixty-one percent of irregular-schedule workers with no education beyond high school receive their schedule three days in advance or less. This compares to 44 percent of those with a bachelor's degree who are given only this level of advance notice.
Employee benefits are an additional component of employment conditions. Over three-fourths of workers indicate that their employer offers paid vacation time and health insurance, making those two benefits the most commonly offered (table 11).22 Retirement benefits and paid sick leave are each offered to just over two-thirds of employees while maternity or paternity leave is offered to over half of workers.23
Table 11. Employment benefits offered to workers (by employment status)
|Benefit||Full time||Part time||Contractor||All workers|
|Paid vacation or personal leave||90||36||17||78|
|Paid sick leave||77||32||15||67|
|Maternity or paternity leave||63||22||11||54|
|Ability to work from home||28||16||50||26|
Note: Among adults employed for someone else or who work as a contractor in their main job. Respondents can select multiple answers.
The offering of these benefits is closely tied to employment status, with full-time workers much more likely to be offered nearly all forms of benefits than part-time workers or contractors. For example, 77 percent of full-time workers are offered paid sick leave, compared to 32 percent of part-time workers and 15 percent of contract workers.
Part-time and contract workers are also less satisfied with their benefits packages than full-time workers. While 70 percent of full-time workers are somewhat or very satisfied with their employee benefits overall, one-third of part-time workers and 3 in 10 contract workers are satisfied with their benefits. Among those who are working part time for economic reasons, an even lower one-fourth of workers are satisfied with their benefits. The difference in satisfaction with benefits is much larger than for wages: 67 percent of full-time workers versus 55 percent of contractors and 52 percent of part-time workers are satisfied with their wages or salary.
Box 2. Irregular Work Schedules, Part Time for Economic Reasons, and Preferences for Stable Pay
Variable work schedules give employers the ability to match their workforce to shifts in customer demand and other changes in business conditions. Yet work hours set by employers on short notice may cause financial strain, particularly for low-income workers. In the U.S. Financial Diaries, an ethnographic study of over 200 low- and moderate-income families by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider, monthly swings in income, even by modest amounts, and unpredictable work hours frequently led to an inability to pay expenses.1 In addition, unpredictable hours may make it difficult for part-time workers to take on additional jobs and increase their family income.
In the survey, more than one-third of non-retirees working part time for economic reasons in 2017 have a variable work schedule set by their employer (figure A). One-quarter of non-retired individuals working part time for non-economic reasons, and 12 percent of full-time workers, have such an irregular schedule. This means that many of the part-time workers who would potentially work more hours (and thus are not currently at their full employment) also face the challenge of unpredictable hours. As another sign of differences in employees' status, 3 in 10 of those working part time for economic reasons received a raise in the past year versus more than half of full-time workers who received a raise.
Some individuals may be more willing to take on unpredictable hours than others. For example, those with a cushion of savings, fewer fixed expenses, or a greater flexibility, in general, may be willing to exchange stable hours for higher pay or other job characteristics. A hypothetical job choice in the survey suggests that those who actually work irregular schedules--particularly those who request the flexibility--are somewhat more tolerant of varying income than those who work a fixed schedule (figure B). Even with this relationship between actual and hypothetical job choices, it is striking how many individuals always prefer the stable job in the hypothetical scenario. Even when the varying job pays a lot more, two-fifths of non-retirees would still choose the stable-pay job. In an experimental setting, Alexandre Mas and Amanda Pallais (2016) found that workers were willing to give up one-fifth of their weekly wages to avoid a work schedule set by their employer with a week's advance notice.2
1. Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider, The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016); see also the
U.S. Financial Diaries website, www.usfinancialdiaries.org/. Return to text
2. Alexandre Mas and Amanda Pallais, "Valuing Alternative Work Arrangements," American Economic Review 107, no. 12 (2017): 3722-59. Return to textReturn to text
The gig economy, with independent workers and short-term contracts, can also be a source of employment and income. Here, gig work covers three types of non-traditional activities: offline service activities, such as child care or house cleaning; offline sales, such as selling items at flea markets or thrift stores; and online services or sales, such as driving using a ride-sharing app or selling items online.24 This definition of gig work, encompassing both online and offline activities, takes a broad view of the gig economy and underscores the fact that such supplemental work predates the internet. Gig work is largely done in addition to a main job, so this is often distinct from those who work as contractors in their main job.25
Overall in 2017, 31 percent of all adults engaged in gig work in the month before the survey, up slightly from 28 percent in 2016. This increase was predominantly due to an increase in participation in offline activities--which rose to 20 percent in 2017 from 17 percent in 2016. Younger individuals are more likely to perform gig work: 43 percent of those ages 25 to 34 versus 18 percent of those age 65 or older.26 The typical person working in the gig economy spends five hours per month on these activities.27
Online activities are the most common form of gig work, performed by 16 percent of adults (table 12). In addition, 14 percent earned money through offline service activities and 9 percent through offline sales activities. The mix of online and offline activities varies by education, but the overall differences in gig work across education groups is narrower than in 2016.
Table 12. Gig work (by education)
|Activity||High school degree
Note: Respondents can select multiple answers.
To earn extra money is, by far, the most common reason that individuals engage in gig work (figure 9). Two-fifths of gig workers (12 percent of all adults) are doing these side jobs to supplement income from main jobs, and for an additional 16 percent of gig workers, this is their primary source of income.
Gig work is typically a modest share of family income. For over three-fourths of gig workers, these activities account for 10 percent or less of their family income.28 This work comprises over half of family income for only 5 percent of gig workers. Despite the modest share of family income, many gig workers (45 percent) say that this income is at least somewhat important, including 15 percent who say it is very important. The greater subjective value placed on this income may be related to its ability to smooth out unexpected changes in earnings from main jobs even if the actual amount of money earned is relatively small.
Half of gig workers with a high school degree or less say that the work is an important source of income for their families (figure 10). The financial importance of gig work declines with education, but even 37 percent of gig workers with a bachelor's degree or higher say it is important.
18. The rate of employment in the SHED is comparable to the Current Population Survey. In the 2017 SHED, 61 percent of individuals over age 20 report having a job of any kind in the month prior to the survey, similar to 62 percent in the Current Population Survey in 2017:Q4 based on four reference weeks (see www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpseea08a.htm). Unlike the Current Population Survey, the SHED allows the employed to select multiple employment statuses to describe the past month. Return to text
19. This compares to 19 percent of part-time workers in the November Current Population Survey who were working part time for economic reasons. The somewhat higher share observed in the SHED may be due to the SHED allowing workers to select all the reasons that they work part time, whereas the Current Population Survey focuses on the main reason. Return to text
20. The survey asks respondents about their employment status--and includes subsequent questions on the reasons for not working among those who explicitly report that they were not employed during a period in the past month. Approximately 9 percent of adults replied "no" to all three questions of whether they were employed, self-employed, or not employed in the past month. These respondents are excluded from the discussion of reasons for not working. Return to text
21. Joan Williams and coauthors (2018) discuss some of the reasons for variable work schedules in retail, as well as the results of an experiment to increase schedule stability at a large national retailer (Stable Scheduling Increases Productivity and Sales: The Stable Scheduling Study, www.worklifelaw.org/publications/Stable-Scheduling-Study-Report.pdf). Return to text
22. The survey asks respondents whether their employer offers each of these benefits, irrespective of whether they personally use the benefit. Return to text
23. The fraction of workers in the SHED being offered each benefit is broadly consistent with that reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the National Compensation Survey (see www.bls.gov/ncs/ebs/benefits/2017/home.htm). Return to text
24. The findings in this section are from different survey questions than in the "Income" section of this report. For question wording, see appendix A of the supplemental appendixes to this report (www.federalreserve.gov/consumerscommunities/shed_publications.htm). The measurement of an evolving issue, like the gig economy, can be particularly challenging, since the terms and practices are not widely understood. This survey explores various ways to ask about gig work, providing rich, but sometimes conflicting information on this form of employment and source of income. Return to text
25. See Barbara Robles and Marysol McGee, "Exploring Online and Offline Informal Work: Findings from the Enterprising and Informal Work Activities (EIWA) Survey" Finance and Economics Discussion series 2016-089 (Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, October, 2016); and Government Accountability Office, Contingent Workforce: Size, Characteristics, Earnings, and Benefits (Washington: Government Accountability Office, April 2015), for additional discussion on measuring gig work. Return to text
26. The 2017 survey offers different response options to the gig work questions than in 2016. In particular, "driving using a ride-sharing app" is now listed as a separate task. Such changes in the question wording may affect the year-to-year comparisons. Return to text
27. Throughout this report, references to the typical person reflect the median response. Return to text
28. The small fraction of income earned from gig work may help explain why some gig workers do not report these activities
as sources of family income, as described in the previous "Income" section. In addition, the richer descriptions of the gig work, including specific online and offline activities, may have captured more gig work than the brief response option in the income question. Return to text