Financial Diaries of the Gig Economy – Introducing Our Collaboration Series with uKai Projects
September 11, 2020 | Blog
“I have long-term goals. Like I just … it's just going to be hard to reach them. And when you ask me what artists need, I think, I think they need to find some sort of stability in this city and I don't know how they're going to find it. Every artist has their own path, you know? I can't look at someone else's plate. It's just going to mess up my situation. I don't know one person who gets, who pays rent the same way as someone else. Everyone that I know, they all do something different”
- Study Participant Interview
The Nature Of Work Has Changed For A Lot Of People
Financial services and products are developed in response to needs. Changes in the needs and realities of many Canadians were happening long before the catastrophic impact of COVID-19. Anecdotal evidence of adaptations being made by those working freelance or in the gig economy were readily available on social media and elsewhere. Stories of long waits to get paid, wild fluctuations in income, and the shift of risk to workers were common. Similarly, workarounds and solutions are being shared, often by those speaking from lived experiences of precarity.
COVID-19 is bringing volatile working conditions starkly to light. The StatsCan Labour Force Survey (LFS) for June 2020 showed an unemployment rate of over 12 per cent (StatsCan 2020) in Ontario. For those under 25, the rate is 30 per cent. As staggering as these figures are, they only paint part of the picture as the definition of unemployment used by StatsCan is rigorously narrow. True rates of unemployment and severe underemployment may be as high as 30 per cent across the population (Standard 2020) and over 50 per cent for young people.
Precarious work has become a feature of life in modern economies. According to the Census, even in 2016, 10 per cent of Toronto’s work force was working in the ‘gig economy’. Gig economy workers are defined by Statistics Canada as “unincorporated self-employed workers who enter into various contracts with firms or individuals to complete a specific task or to work for a specific period of time.” It includes freelancers and on-demand workers hired by ‘sharing’ services such as Uber.
Since the 1980s, employment security has weakened amidst a boom in “novel” employment relationships. Social and economic precarity is increasingly the norm.
Financial Services Are Not Designed For This – We Need To Understand How They Could Be
Few studies have attempted to understand in depth the adaptations being made by individuals experiencing precarity and the financial services that might allay the pressures of an increasingly atomized labour market. To better understand the lived experiences of freelancers and other precarious workers, DUCA Impact Lab and UKAI Projects, a Toronto-based non-profit, conducted a 6-month study of twelve freelancers working in the creative and cultural sector.
The study involved comprehensive tracking of cash flow on a transaction by transaction basis from October 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020. Late in the study period, Canada saw isolation orders as the COVID-19 pandemic moved across North America and the world. Qualitative interviews conducted prior, during and after the study period provide elaboration on the emerging statistical themes arising from the study.