Beyond Gig: Understanding the Role of Independent Contracting in California

CPL is using administrative data to get clarity on the growth of self-employment in the new economy.


The growth of on-demand platforms like Uber or Taskrabbit has created a perception that the ‘gig economy’ is rapidly expanding and freelancing will soon become the norm. Yet we lack reliable information about independent contracting, its growth, or its effect on employment trends. Until now, studies have relied on worker surveys and unemployment insurance records, which are oriented toward traditional jobs.

Research Project

Through this unique partnership with the California Franchise Tax Board, CPL is analyzing over 80 million California tax returns to uncover key insights about the nature and prevalence of independent contracting in today’s economy. This project is a partnership between the Franchise Tax Board, the California Policy Lab (CPL) and the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

This project uses de-identified data from California personal income tax returns to measure the frequency and nature of independent contracting work in California. Independent contractors will be identified by the presence of a Schedule C on the tax return and/or the receipt of a Form 1099 information return. 

This project will examine: 

  • How many workers are in the so-called “gig economy”?
  • In which industries is independent contracting most common?
  • Do workers use freelance gigs as their main job or as supplemental income?
  • How does the use of independent contracting vary across different points of the income distribution, career trajectories, and the life cycle?
  • Is unemployment associated with transition into independent contracting and does that work persist or is it used primarily to smooth income fluctuations?
  • Has independent contracting become more common in recent years, and is the emergence of on-demand platforms or the conversion of jobs previously classified as employees driving that growth?

Research Team

Jesse Rothstein (Co-Principal Investigator), Annette Bernhardt (Co-Principal Investigator), Aparna Ramesh, Chris Campos, Patrick Kennedy, Charles Davis, Sarah Thomason, Samantha Fu


Working paper: The “Gig Economy” and Independent Contracting: Evidence from California Tax Data

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