Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Chris Howell

Committee Member(s)

Marc Blecher


Gig economy, On-demand economy, Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit, Venture capital, Social security, Contingent work, Fordism, New Deal, American workforce, Independent contractors, Tech start-ups, Employer-employee, Public policy, Unions, Labor intermediaries


In the 21st century, the American labor market is best defined by instability. Since the 1970s, more and more Americans have been forced into precarious work arrangements that fail to ensure job security, livable wage-rates, or employee satisfaction. A dark cloud swirls around the labor market in the form of contingent work. Contingent workers are not guaranteed the same protections and securities as traditional employees. Firms revel in an employment landscape that allows them to deploy and terminate workers with ease. Contingent work has carved its own position in the economy in the form of the Gig economy. The Gig economy marks a pivot in American employment relationships: where the postwar labor market served to fortify long-term commitments between firms and their workers, the Gig economy has propelled workers towards vulnerability.

Despite its casualization of the American economy, the Gig economy has also inspired the emergence of a new, and potentially significant, form of commercial exchange in the On-Demand economy. The On-Demand economy is comprised of app- based platforms that connect consumers with workers who provide a single service or form of exchange. On the surface, this sector of the economy simply exacerbates a structural trend towards precarity. This assessment is short-sighted. On-Demand platforms offer groundbreaking forms of commercial exchange. Consumers can request a service, and within minutes, have their whims conveniently satisfied. Recent technological advancements have inspired the growth of business models that were implausible less than two decades ago. Today, most On-Demand platforms placate the desires of consumers. These platforms have the potential to generate consumer demand and ensure the provision of vital services to the weakest among us. With the On-Demand economy, workers can benefit from the ability to assert sovereignty in a labor market that has subjugated them for the past several decades.

Currently, the On-Demand economy is hindered by the fact that it is a product of the wider Gig economy. The former may inspire innovation and creative forms of exchange, but it still operates under the auspices of the latter. Therefore, On-Demand workers are pushed into unstable and unpredictable employment arrangements. The predominant systems responsible for protecting and advocating for American workers were constructed in the early 20th century, during the New Deal. The public policies and institutions ushered in by the New Deal have undoubtedly enhanced the livelihoods of millions of Americans. Despite this fact, these systems and forms of protections have frayed over the past several decades; they were never intended to satisfy the needs of workers in the Gig and On-Demand economy. If the rules and regulations outlined by the New Deal were imposed on firms in the On-Demand economy, the results would be disastrous. While conventional policy prescriptions could theoretically benefit workers, they would smother the emerging On-Demand economy, and inhibit the flexibility it avails to workers.

Macrostructural trends have provoked the rise of the nefarious Gig economy as well as the potentially valuable On-Demand economy. Both sectors of the economy challenge the traditional methods by which workers are guaranteed security and stability. The goal of this Thesis is to investigate how labor protections and benefits can be reimagined in order to empower American workers whilst simultaneously fostering innovation and flexibility in the On-Demand economy.