Roughly a third of the American workforce is not engaged in ‘traditional’ long-term employment, with offices and pensions and set hours and guarantees that they will have the same job tomorrow. That contingent third – independent contractors, part-timers, freelancers, Uber drivers, etc. – have a surprisingly small profile when it comes to public policy.
That the so-called gig economy had for years flown under the radar was attested to by Mark Warner, the Democratic senior senator from Virginia, who noticed the issue hadn’t even split along partisan lines when he first started examining it as a freshman senator in 2009. But as he studied the gig economy, he told a Capitol Hill audience last May in introducing the guest at the annual Daniel Patrick Moynihan Lecture on Social Science and Public Policy, he found the tracks of someone who had preceded him.
“I got more and more into this, and I thought, ‘How do we sort this through?’, to no one’s surprise here, the person who was already there, who was already doing the research, who was already advocating for more funding for the [Bureau of Labor Statistics], was Alan Krueger. As I was starting as a policymaker sorting through some of these questions, Alan Kruger was already there writing some of the more provocative papers about how we ought to approach these issues.”
Krueger, presently the Bendheim Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Princeton and formerly chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, had already made a name for himself for his work on the minimum wage when he started to examine the economics of alternative work arrangements and how to extend the social safety net to gig workers.
In his lecture, which he gave as the winner of the 2017 Moynihan Prize bestowed by the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Krueger notes that the gig-ification of America predates the Great Recession, with steady growth for decades in the ranks of the self-employed. However, labor law and social programs still assume workers are directly connected to companies.
“I think the real challenge that we face,” he tells the audience in the video below, “to this large and growing group of workers, particularly in an era where there seems to be tremendous opposition to having universality and to having mandates.” But the path forward isn’t impossible, he suggests, pointing to Social Security – “the ultimate portable benefit.”
“This is one of the areas where we need to develop more evidence, in the great [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan tradition,” he said. “We should have more facts – we can all have our own opinions – but we should know what the facts are.” And in that vein, Krueger gives data and information that he researched especially for the lecture.
In addition to his administration duties under Obama, Krueger also served as assistant secretary for economic policy and chief economist of the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2009–10, and as chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor in 1994–95. Since 1987, he has held a joint appointment in the Economics Department and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. He is the founding director of Princeton’s Survey Research Center. Before winning the Moynihan prize, he was inducted as an AAPSS Fellow in 2003.
Previous Moynihan Prize recipients include Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve; Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins, Fellows in Economics at the Brookings Institution; Rebecca Blank, former Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison; David Ellwood, former Dean and the Scott M. Black Professor of Political Economy at Harvard Kennedy School; Alice Rivlin, former director of the White House Office of Management and Budget and the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office; Robert Greenstein, founder and executive director of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities; Diane Ravitch, former assistant U.S. Secretary of Education and historian of education at New York University; William Julius Wilson, a Harvard sociologist and a recipient of the National Medal of Science; and Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize–winning economist.