Job Training for Workers in the Gig Economy Era

New Orleans    An interesting question came from the audience after watching “The Organizer” in Santa Fe.  A gentleman asked what ACORN was doing and what was our thinking about job training programs these days.  I basically answered that federal monies were being cutback in job training, but for the most part there seemed to be a sense that job training programs were lost and ineffective, out of tune with both the modern economy and with the decreased mobility of workers in post-Great Recession period.  I threw something back that was glibber than well thought out bringing the question back to the problem of what exactly constitutes job training in the gig-economy and the coming age of mass scale automation.

The question clearly deserves a better answer than I offered, but it also got me thinking about exactly what kind of job training is appropriate in the second decade of the 21st century?  How does one train workers in the gig economy?  And, to what degree do many of these workers need job training at all, compared to support and assistance in running what amounts to a small business in self-employment?

One of the core characteristics of gig workers is the mobility and adaptability of their job skills and employment assets.  Whether they are employees of companies like Uber or independent contractors, under either definition at the heart of the business model for companies like Uber, AirBnb and so many other app-based employers are their hope and prayer that workers do not fully understand their self-interest and that they can pass off the normal costs of  business to the workers themselves.  There are no employment costs and workers are ill-trained to evaluate everything from house and car depreciation, insurance of all kinds including health, auto, home, and workman’s compensation, taxes and social security, and the list goes on.  It may not be a job training program in the way my questioner imagined, but to protect and advance gig economy workers, there should be government sponsored training programs that assist workers in how to navigate these shoals.

We all know men and women in these potentially exploitative situations.  The number of Uber and Lyft drivers who are barely making minimum wage for their hours worked is legion, and the number that realize that when they first enroll in the program is minuscule.  The number of short term rental people who are unprepared for making the decisions in handling city licensing and personal tax planning is also astronomical.

Perhaps if the government – and others – stepped up to this issue and offered the kind of financial education and support needed, these employers would have to get right with their workers, whatever they are called.  Perhaps if the government – and others – did that they should and also start to understand the long term social and individual impacts that will accrue for payment later, like social security and health care payments, they will step up to the task as well.

All of these questions need better answers.


Some Musical Responses to the Tax Plan and the Gig Economy

New Orleans   How about a break? When we worry about whether or not there’s something new that can be said to warn people about the inequitable horrors of the President and Republican’s tax plan or the systemic dysfunction and exploitation that lies at the core of the so-called “gig” economy, then maybe Randy Newman and Bruce Springsteen can add some perspective.

Newman wrote “Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)” in 1974 in the face of Richard Nixon’s proposals, but it’s a message that President Trump needs to hear as well.

We’ve taken all you’ve given
But it’s gettin’ hard to make a livin’
Mr. President have pity on the working man

We ain’t asking for you to love us
You may place yourself high above us
Mr. President have pity on the working man

I know it may sound funny
But people ev’ry where are runnin’ out of money
We just can’t make it by ourself

It is cold and the wind is blowing
We need something to keep us going
Mr. President have pity on the working man

Maybe you’re cheatin’
Maybe you’re lyin’
Maybe you have lost your mind
Maybe you’re only thinking ’bout yourself

Too late to run. Too late to cry now
The time has come for us to say good-bye now
Mr. President have pity on the working man
Mr. President have pity on the working man

And, for all of the talk about the supposedly modern, future seeking innovations of making a living in the gig economy, listening to Bruce Springsteen’s 2012 song, “Jack of All Trades,” might be a reminder that there’s nothing new about work that is hard to find and piecing together a living the best you can from whatever as well as a protest about the rich getting the meal and the rest of us searching for the crumbs with an anger just barely under control.

I’ll mow your lawn, clean the leaves out your drain
I’ll mend your roof to keep out the rain
I’ll take the work that God provides
I’m a Jack of all trades, honey, we’ll be alright

I’ll hammer the nails, and I’ll set the stone
I’ll harvest your crops when they’re ripe and grown
I’ll pull that engine apart and patch her up ’til she’s running right
I’m a Jack of all trades, we’ll be alright

A hurricane blows, brings a hard rain
When the blue sky breaks, feels like the world’s gonna change
We’ll start caring for each other like Jesus said that we might
I’m a Jack of all trades, we’ll be alright

The banker man grows fatter, the working man grows thin
It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again
It’ll happen again, they’ll bet your life
I’m a Jack of all trades and, darling, we’ll be alright

Now sometimes tomorrow comes soaked in treasure and blood
Here we stood the drought, now we’ll stand the flood
There’s a new world coming, I can see the light
I’m a Jack of all trades, we’ll be alright

So you use what you’ve got, and you learn to make do
You take the old, you make it new
If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot ’em on sight
I’m a Jack of all trades, we’ll be alright
I’m a Jack of all trades, we’ll be alright