Frequently asked questions about data on electronically mediated employment

BLS added four new questions to the May 2017 Contingent Worker Supplement. These questions were designed to measure an emerging type of work—electronically mediated employment, generally defined as short jobs or tasks that workers find through mobile apps that both connect them with customers and arrange payment for the tasks. The estimates include all people who did electronically mediated work, whether for their main job, a second job, or additional work for pay.

 

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1. How does BLS define electronically mediated employment?

Electronically mediated employment is defined as short jobs or tasks that workers find through websites or mobile apps that both connect them with customers and arrange payment for the tasks.

This work can be done either in person or entirely online. The work could be done as a main job, a second job, or additional work for pay.

For example, some people use their own cars to transport others from place to place, having obtained customers through a mobile app (such as Uber or Lyft) that also facilitates payment. Others do household chores or yardwork after finding clients through a website (such as TaskRabbit or Handy). Those who do this work entirely online could take surveys or add descriptive keywords to photos or documents through a platform (such as Amazon Mechanical Turk or Clickworker).

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2. How did BLS measure electronically mediated employment?

BLS added four questions to the May 2017 Contingent Worker Supplement (CWS) to the Current Population Survey (CPS) to measure the number of people with electronically mediated employment. These data refer to electronically mediated work done during the survey reference week (May 7 to 13, 2017).

At the end of the CWS, employed people were asked the following questions:

Introduction I now have a few questions related to how the Internet and mobile apps have led to new types of work arrangements. I will ask first about tasks that are done in-person and then about tasks that are done entirely online.

Q1. Some people find short, IN-PERSON tasks or jobs through companies that connect them directly with customers using a website or mobile app. These companies also coordinate payment for the service through the app or website.

For example, using your own car to drive people from one place to another, delivering something, or doing someoneís household tasks or errands.

Does this describe ANY work you did LAST WEEK?

  • Yes
  • No

 

Q1a. Was that for your main job, your second job, or other additional work for pay?

  • Main job
  • Second job
  • Additional work for pay

(The question wording and response option for "second job" only appears for people who were previously identified in the survey as having more than one job. For people with only one job, the question read "Was that for your job or additional work for pay?")

 

Q2. Some people select short, ONLINE tasks or projects through companies that maintain lists that are accessed through an app or a website. These tasks are done entirely online and the companies coordinate payment for the work.

For example, data entry, translating text, web or software development, or graphic design.

Does this describe ANY work you did LAST WEEK?

  • Yes
  • No

 

Q2a. Was that for your main job, your second job, or other additional work for pay?

  • Main job
  • Second job
  • Additional work for pay

(The question wording and response option for "second job" only appears for people who were previously identified in the survey as having more than one job. For people with only one job, the question read "Was that for your job or additional work for pay?")

People who responded "yes" to either question Q1 or Q2 (or both) were counted as electronically mediated workers.

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3. Were there any problems with the data from the new questions on electronically mediated employment?

Yes. After studying respondentsí answers to the new questions and other information we collected about them, BLS determined the new questions did not work as intended.

Specifically, it was clear there were many false positives. That is, people responded "yes" to the new questions when the description of job duties and employers (available only on a confidential microdata file) was incompatible with electronically mediated work. We also saw that many people said they had done their electronically mediated work both in-person and entirely online for the same job. Finally, some people said "yes" to the questions if they simply used a computer or mobile app in their job. These problems were widespread across "yes" responses for many occupations.

For example, people said they had used a website or mobile app to connect with customers and were paid through that same website or app for the following jobs:

  • Vice president of a major bank
  • Manager of a fast food restaurant
  • Local police officer
  • Surgeon at a large hospital

Additionally, people said they had done electronically mediated work entirely online for the following jobs:

  • Medical assistant administering medication to patients
  • Hair stylist
  • Railroad engineer
  • Front desk clerk at a motel

A complete description of the problems with the new questions can be found in the "Evaluating the data" sections of Electronically mediated work: new questions in the Contingent Worker Supplement.

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4. Was there a problem with incorrect "no" answers to the new electronically mediated questions?

No. BLS used information in the confidential microdata file to check for false negatives, and there did not seem to be a problem with incorrect "no" answers.

For more information, see the "Recoding the data" section of Electronically mediated work: new questions in the Contingent Worker Supplement.

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5. How did BLS address the problem of incorrect "yes" answers in the data?

Given that both monitoring and microdata evaluation revealed that the questions had not worked as intended, BLS considered whether the data were too flawed to release. Because there were many incorrect "yes" answers to the questions but very few incorrect "no" answers, BLS determined that it could manually recode the obvious false positives. Recoding answers using verbatim responses about job characteristics (available only on the confidential microdata file) allowed BLS to produce meaningful estimates of electronically mediated employment.

A complete explanation of the monitoring and evaluation process can be found in the "Evaluating the data" section of Electronically mediated work: new questions in the Contingent Worker Supplement.

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6. How did BLS recode the data?

To recode obvious incorrect "yes" answers, BLS used information available only on the confidential microdata file, including respondentsí verbatim descriptions of job duties, employer name, industry, and occupation. BLS also took into account additional information about usual work hours; whether the person worked for the government, a for-profit firm, or a nonprofit firm; self-employment status; and whether people were independent contractors or in other alternative employment arrangements on their main job.

Most of the answers that were changed from "yes" to "no" were for workers who said they had done electronically mediated work for their main job. This was partly because most "yes" answers were about the main job, and BLS had information about virtually all main jobs. "Yes" answers about the second job or additional work for pay were less common. Further, due to the design of the CPS, information used for recoding was only available for about one-fourth of those with a second job. There was no information to recode cases where electronically mediated work had been reported being done as additional work for pay. Answers for which there was no information on which to base a recode were left as "yes."

BLS did not recode ambiguous cases. While there are likely still some incorrect "yes" answers in the recoded data, BLS believes that measures using recoded data more accurately represent the number and characteristics of electronically mediated workers than do measures using the data as collected.

A complete explanation of the recoding process can be found in the "Recoding the data" section of Electronically mediated work: new questions in the Contingent Worker Supplement.

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7. What was the impact of the recoding?

After changing obvious incorrect "yes" answers to "no", the recoding lowered the number of observations with "yes" answers by about two-thirds.

For more information, see Table 1 and the "Comparing collected data with recoded data" section of Electronically mediated work: new questions in the Contingent Worker Supplement.

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8. Should I use the as-collected data?

No. BLS is confident that the recoded data provides a better picture of the number and characteristics of in-person and online electronically mediated workers than does the collected data.

However, in the interest of transparency, BLS is releasing both the collected data and the recoded data. See appendix table B-1 for measures of electronically mediated work as collected and as recoded.

In addition, researchers will be able to tabulate data as collected and as recoded using the public use microdata file.

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9. What estimates are available about electronically meditated workers?

See the highlights of May 2017 data on electronically mediated employment. BLS tables include basic demographic characteristics such as age, sex, race, Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, and educational attainment. Tables also include characteristics like full- and part-time status, industry, and occupation. All of the tables produced by BLS are available online. In addition, researchers can use the public use microdata file to tabulate their own estimates.

These data refer to electronically mediated work done during the survey reference week (May 7 to 13, 2017). BLS did not ask how frequently people had done electronically mediated work or whether they had done it prior to the survey reference week.

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10. Is there information about electronically mediated work as a main job versus a side job?

BLS designed questions to capture whether electronically mediated work was done for a personís main job, their second job, or other additional work for pay. BLS was able to recode people who did electronically mediated work on their main job. However, because there was little or no information to recode people who did electronically mediated work for a second job or for additional work for pay, there are likely still some incorrect "yes" answers in the recoded data for second jobs and additional work for pay.

BLS is confident in the estimates of the number of people who did this work for their main job using the recoded data. The number of people who did this work for a second job or for additional work for pay may be overstated. Therefore, BLS does not recommend using percentage distributions of electronically mediated work by main job, second job, or additional work for pay because they are likely to be misleading.

For more information, see the "Recoding the data" section of Electronically mediated work: new questions in the Contingent Worker Supplement.

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11. Does BLS have estimates of earnings for electronically mediated workers?

No. BLS does not plan to tabulate earnings estimates for electronically mediated workers.

Earnings data are only collected from about one-fourth of the sample, and there are relatively few electronically mediated workers. Earnings data are restricted to the main job; earnings are not collected for second jobs or additional work for pay.

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12. Are the data on electronically mediated work available for states, cities, or local areas?

No. Because of the relatively small sample sizes in most states, BLS does not plan to tabulate subnational estimates for electronically mediated work.

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13. Will data on electronically mediated workers be available on CPS public use microdata files?

Yes. Data about electronically mediated workers from the May 2017 Contingent Worker Supplement are available from the U.S. Census Bureau's DataWeb FTP page. As with all CPS microdata, personally identifiable information is removed. Although BLS is confident that the recoded data provides a better picture of the number and characteristics of electronically mediated workers, in the interest of transparency, BLS is releasing microdata variables for both the as-collected data and the recoded data.

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14. Are electronically mediated workers included in other CPS employment data?

Yes. The measure of employment in the Current Population Survey (CPS) includes electronically mediated workers. However, the monthly survey is not designed to separately identify such workers. Therefore, it is not possible to determine how many are counted in the survey each month.

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15. What can you tell me about rideshare drivers?

The four new questions added to the May 2017 Contingent Worker Supplement (CWS) were intended to provide an overall estimate of electronically mediated workers. The new questions were not designed to measure specific types of electronically mediated workers, such as rideshare drivers.

Although BLS cannot determine how many workers were rideshare drivers, these workers would be classified in the transportation and utilities industry. In May 2017, there were about 350,000 electronically mediated workers whose main job was in the transportation and utilities industry, about 5 percent of workers in this industry. (See table 3.)

By occupation, rideshare drivers would be classified in transportation and material moving occupations, but again, BLS cannot determine how many rideshare drivers are in this occupation. In May 2017, about 4 percent of people whose main job was in transportation and material moving occupations were electronically mediated workers. (See table 3.)

Some electronically mediated work is done in person and some is done online. Among people who did electronically mediated work in person, about a third were in the transportation and utilities industry (on their main job). A similar share were in transportation and material moving occupations (on their main job). (See table 4.)

The estimates by industry and occupation include electronically mediated workers who are not rideshare drivers, such as delivery drivers. Additionally, these measures do not include people who are rideshare drivers on a second job. (The survey only collects occupation and industry detail for multiple jobholders from a quarter of the sample each month. This limits the ability to identify specific kinds of work for secondary jobs.)

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16. Is electronically mediated employment a measure of the "gig economy"?

BLS has no official definition of the "gig economy" or "gig workers." In fact, researchers use many different definitions, many of which are likely to include electronically mediated workers. They could also include contingent workers or even those in alternative work arrangements. BLS data on contingent workers, those in alternative work arrangements, and electronically mediated workers allow researchers to generate their own measure of their conceptualization of "gig."

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Last Modified Date: September 28, 2018