An Argument for Universal Health Care? The Growing “Gig” Economy

The truth is, I’m not usually one to express political views or to chat about socioeconomics as a blogger.

But when an issue has impactful consequences and is seriously personal – for myself as well as for many people – it seems both timely and fitting to blog about it.

I recently heard a news story that Lowe’s Home Improvement was laying off thousands of employees and replacing them with contractors in order to compete in an increasingly online marketplace.

As you might guess, these workers would be added to the ever-expanding “gig” workforce without employer-sponsored benefits or health care.

Tools sold by workers at Lowes
Home Improvement Stores Classifying Employees As Independent Contractors?

As I listened to the story, it got me thinking about all those Uber, Lyft, and Amazon drivers and the hundreds of thousands of “everyone else” who currently make their living as independent contractors across all industries nationwide.

At the start of 2018, 1 in 5 jobs in America was held by a worker under contract. Within a decade, contractors and freelancers could make up half of the American workforce. And beyond a decade, who knows? This sea change toward independent work is one without the constraints – or benefits – of full-time employment.

I have been an independent contractor for over 23 years. As such, I have had to learn and execute skills not so urgently called for as a full-time employee. Divorced and single since 2004, I have had to manage all of my own tax payments and retirement investments. I have had to pursue and secure all of my work.

And probably most pressing of all, I have had to secure my own health insurance.

Before Covered California (“Obamacare”) came along, my health insurance (Kaiser) was becoming an increasing concern every year as premiums consistently increased 10 – 20 percent. In an industry (independent court reporting) where pay has remained essentially stagnant for over 20 years, it had gotten to the point in the year before I joined Covered CA where I was considering dropping my health insurance altogether due to the burdensome cost.

Logo for Covered California health insurance
The Ability To Purchase My Own Health Insurance Was a Game Changer

Covered CA saved my you-know-what.

So as someone with a tendency to ruminate on trends and to reflect on “the big picture,” once I heard the Lowes news story – and knowing my personal experience — my intuition rendered the following conclusion.

Universal health care is coming.

Maybe not with you-know-who at the helm. But the truth is that as more and more businesses – including and especially brick-and-mortar operations — need to compete with non-benefit-paying companies to survive and the move to widespread contractor status becomes increasingly the norm, the responsibility for the provision of health care insurance will rest with the public sector.

As it does currently virtually everywhere else in the world.

Yes, there will always be private elective options available to those who want them and can afford them. But a threshold of basic public health insurance for the masses – however that is defined – will become an economic and political mandate, especially in light of the reduced leverage freelance workers have regarding pay.

Health Cxare workers providing care to all
Universal Health Care Is a Necessity for Freelancers

And as Democratic Senator Mark Warner (VA) said, “If we don’t have a social contract for this (contractor) workforce, if we don’t have social insurance that moves with workers, then I feel the economic discontent and economic insecurity that comes from working with no safety net under you would rise dramatically.”

Don’t believe me?

Time will tell.





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