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Discussion paper

The online platform economy: who earns the most?

5 May 2016

In the JPMorgan Chase Institute’s report Paychecks, Paydays, and the Online Platform Economy, we documented that 4 percent of adults earned income from the Online Platform Economy between October 2012 and September 2015. Despite the tremendous growth in participation in the Online Platform Economy—a 47-fold increase over three years—these online “gigs” remained a secondary source of income for most people. In months when individuals earned platform income, labor platforms, such as Uber or TaskRabbit where individuals perform discrete tasks or assignments, contributed 33 percent of total monthly income, and capital platforms, such as eBay or Airbnb where individuals sell goods or rent assets, contributed 20 percent of total monthly income.

With many policy debates underway, including whether platform workers should constitute a new class of “independent workers” and how to provide traditional workplace benefits for them, it is important to understand who would be most affected by proposed policies or the results of class action lawsuits. We find that the Online Platform Economy contributed significantly to the bottom line for certain segments of the population, notably labor platform participants in general, and specifically labor platform earners who live in San Francisco, or who are 35 and older or have low-to-moderate incomes. Among these segments, platform earnings represented, on average, more than a fourth of their income over a 12-month span.

To shed light on who earns the most from online platforms, we drew on our anonymized sample of over 260,000 core Chase checking account customers who earned income on at least one of 30 platforms—the largest sample of platform earners analyzed to date. Here we focus on the 196,000 individuals who participated over the twelve month period between October 2014 and September 2015. During this span, 3.1 percent of adults earned income from online platforms, 2.4 percent in capital platforms and 0.8 percent in labor platforms.

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