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The gig economy is crashing: Freelance jobs at UpWork sunk 31% in past month

3 months ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in Startups
  • Beginning in October, the total number of jobs on the site plummeted from a high of nearly 91,600 opportunities in October to just 63,000 as of this week.
  • A decrease in opportunities was found across all UpWork categories
  • The drop coincides with new laws meant to protect workers
  • UpWork's stock price has taken a dip as well

When the California legislature passed AB 5, a bill that compels companies to treat gig workers like normal employees, analysts expected the gig economy's ascent to experience a serious setback.

Turns out, they weren't wrong. New data shows that beginning in October — just after AB 5 was passed — the number of available gig jobs plummeted, signaling the beginning of a long series of changes and possible near-ends for what was once seen by some as the future of employment.

We closely track data from UpWork ($NASDAQ:UPWK), one of the largest gig-economy sites that match gig workers with jobs ranging from software development to creative design and writing. Beginning in October, the total number of jobs on the site plummeted from a high of nearly 91,600 opportunities in October to just 63,000 as of this week. That's a 31% drop in one month.

However, the number of active users on the platform has continued to grow. This means that for a dwindling number of opportunities, a growing number of workers are bidding for jobs. Economics 101 tells us this means that the average wage for gig workers will only decline as workers down-bid to snatch up dwindling opportunities.

This trend affects virtually all job categories, from creative to skilled-labor opportunities. The top-four categories, as shown above, all saw marked drops in the past month.

The most popular category — in terms of both the number of jobs and registered workers — is Web Mobile Development. Opportunities in this category dropped from an October 13 high of 24,000 to just 16,200 this week, a decrease of 32.5% over the past month.

Meanwhile, the number of Web and Mobile Dev-registered workers increased by 10,000 in that same time period.

Not coincidentally, Upwork, Inc's stock price has tumbled more than 3 points — 21% — in the past week alone. Around the same time, hiring slowed at the company for the first time in at least a year.

The gig economy, once heralded as the future for both employers and employees, is clearly entering a reverse supply and demand phase, in which the number of available workers is in a state of massive surplus. It seems that laws like AB 5, while meant to protect workers, are — at least at their inception — only serving to affect the supply of work doled out by companies that have turned to sites like UpWork for labor.

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales. 

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Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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