Americans experience tremendous income volatility, and that volatility is on the rise. Income volatility matters because it is hard to manage. The typical household faces a shortfall in the financial buffer necessary to weather this volatility. Moreover, the decline in real wages since 2009 for all income groups except the top 5th percentile means that life is harder to afford in general, but even more so when earnings dip below average. Rapidly growing online platforms, such as Uber and Airbnb, have created a new marketplace for work by unbundling a job into discrete tasks and directly connecting individual sellers with consumers. These flexible, highly accessible opportunities to work have the potential to help people buffer against income and expense shocks. The “Online Platform Economy” offers fewer worker protections than traditional work arrangements, however, which has led some to claim that the Online Platform Economy represents a fundamental shift in the nature of work.
This report from the JPMorgan Chase Institute digs deeper into the demographics and sources of income volatility and provides an unprecedented look at the impact of the Online Platform Economy. This analysis relies on high-frequency data from a randomized, anonymized sample of 1 million Chase customers between October 2012 and September 2015. To examine the Online Platform Economy, we assembled the largest sample of platform workers to date—a dataset of over 260,000 individuals who have offered goods or services on one of 30 distinct platforms.