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MIT Students Propose Policy Ideas for Gig Economy Workers

April 09, 2018


The Policy Hackathon’s Future of Work category brought IDE Digital Fellow Professor Geoff Parker (Dartmouth) and Post-doctoral Associate Dr. Erina Ytsma to pose the following challenge: Provide policy recommendations for a social safety net for gig-economy workers.

Four teams rose to the challenge, but only one was chosen as the winner of the category. Team “Free Labor” beat out the competition with their proposal for a plan to increase transparency to consumers about the benefits (or lack there of) of gig-economy platforms.

Using data provided by Wonolo and with the support of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, the teams submitted policy papers with robust, evidence-informed recommendations. Read on for descriptions of the teams and projects.

William Eger, from the Future of Work Challenge winning team “Free Labor”, presents their approach to improving the social safety net for gig-economy workers.

Winning Team Name: Free Labor

Paper Title: Shared Responsibility: Social Forces in Response to Market Failures

Team Members: William Eger, Arthur Delarue, Sebastien Martin, Spencer Wyant

Brief: Recognizing that the labor market is increasingly biased against workers relative to employers (higher supply of workers than demand for jobs), a new social contract is proposed (with four main components – fair compensation, benefits, development, and human interaction) and a path for attaining it. An instrument is proposed for raising awareness and build demand for companies to live up to our social contract. This includes creating a social accountability score to quantify and present the extent to which a company contributes benefits to all workers it interacts with, as well as proposing a system of ‘fractional benefits’. 

Each team gave a 3 minute pitch to the judges on Sunday morning.

Team Name: The Gigsters

Paper Title: Designing a Social Contract for the Gig Economy

Team Members: Apoorvaa Deshpande, Nicolas Guetta Jeanrenaud, Shreyas Gadgin Matha, Wan Chantavilasvong

Brief: Gig economy platforms offer flexibility to both employers and workers. However, evidence indicates that while employers benefit in the short term from the easy labor through such a systems, most workers struggle to guarantee a stable income for themselves. To provide a social safety net for gig workers, a Portable Benefits approach attached with workers’ Individual Security Account is proposed. The feasibility of such a policy is examined in terms of both public as well as private viability, with concrete recommendations on how to implement it.

Teams presented to a group of judges from across the Institute, as well as to their fellow hackers.

Team Name: The Space Bonzai Co-op

Paper Title: We Can Gig It – Envisioning Platform-Mediated Commoditized and Differentiated Social Safety Nets for Workers in the Gig Economy

Team Members: Helen Mayer, Thad Kerosky, and Corey Campbell 

Brief: A classification of social safety net components for gig workers following Oyer’s classification of independent workers is presented, as well as its implications for policy making. In this proposal, a platform may provide social safety net offerings to workers through commoditized or differentiated matching within and without the scope of a legal mandate. Support is provided to show that such insurance meets the World Bank’s criteria for social safety net offerings. Oyer’s framework for independent work is extended to argue that Wonolo, which itself follows a differentiated matching model, is deploying commodified matching to provide a social safety net component to its workers. Policy-based approaches aimed at increasing social safety net offerings for gig workers are presented, blending both commodified and differentiated matching online platforms that facilitate their employment.

Digital Fellow Professor Geoff Parker (Dartmouth) mentored and judged the Future of Work Challenge.

Team Name: Gig Geeks

Paper Title: Supporting and Developing a Growing Workforce in the Gig Economy

Team Members: Karan Bhagat, Gonzalo Caballeria, Akshay Kaushik, Emily Kehne, and Wenjia Wang

Brief: Three key issues investigated are month-to-month income stability, worker skill sets, and imperfect job matching. A range of policy recommendations are presented: 1) income support in the form of an income safety net for independent workers; 2) training in order to provide a pathway to a stable and more desirable job for the “reluctant” participants in the gig economy as well as to diversify skill-sets. Analysis of their feasibility and path towards implementation are also discussed.

Check out the Policy Hackathon’s Twitter for a play-by-play of the event and to check out the other topic areas.

Photos above by Andrew Kubica, Stay Focused Photography.