Why the ‘Gig’ Economy May Not be the Workforce of the Future

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The “gig” economy might not be the new frontier for America’s workforce after all.

From Uber to TaskRabbit to YourMechanic, so-called gig work has been widely seen as ideal for people who want the flexibility and independence that traditional jobs don’t offer. Yet the evidence is growing that over time, they don’t deliver the financial returns many expect.

And they don’t appear to be reshaping the workforce. Over the past two years, for example, pay for gig workers has dropped, and they are earning a growing share of their income elsewhere, a new study finds. Most Americans who earn income through online platforms do so for only a few months each year, according to the study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute being released Monday.

One reason is that some people who experimented with gig work have likely landed traditional jobs as the economy has improved. Drivers for Uber, Lyft and other transportation services, for example, now collectively earn only about half as much each month as they did five years ago.

The new data echo other evidence that such online platforms, despite deploying cutting-edge real-time technology, now look less like the future of work. A government report in July concluded that the proportion of independent workers has actually declined slightly in the past decade.

“People aren’t relying on platforms for their primary source of income,” said Fiona Grieg, director of consumer research for the institute and co-author of the study.

The data is derived from a sample of 39 million JPMorgan checking accounts studied over 5½ years. In March 2018, about 1.6 percent of families participated in the gig economy, equivalent to about 2 million households. That is barely up from the 1.5 percent of a year earlier.

Most participants cycle in and out of gig work to supplement their incomes from other jobs. Previous research by JPMorgan has found that in any given month, one in six workers on online platforms are new — and more than half will have left the gig economy after a year of entering it.

For drivers, 58 percent work just three months or less each year through online economy websites. These include ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft as well as delivery drivers and movers who find work through online apps. Amazon, for example, now uses independent drivers to deliver some packages. Fewer than one-quarter of drivers performed gig work for seven months or more, the study found.

The study also reviewed online platforms that provide home improvement work. These include TaskRabbit as well as dog-walking, home cleaning and other services. Two-thirds of those workers perform gig work for only three months a year or less.

Low pay likely helps explain the frequent turnover of workers who use the gig platforms. For transportation workers, who mostly include Uber and Lyft but also package delivery services, average monthly incomes have fallen from $1,535 in October 2012 to just $762 in March of this year, not adjusted for inflation, the study found.

That drop may at least partly reflect the fact that many drivers are likely working fewer hours, Grieg said. As the number of independent drivers has ballooned over the past five years, drivers have faced intensifying competition. And many have likely found other sources of income as the job market has strengthened. Still, some platforms may be paying their workers less, Grieg said.

How much Uber drivers make on an hourly basis is a hotly debated subject. A 2015 analysis by Princeton University economist Alan Kruger found that drivers in 20 large markets earned $19.04 an hour. But those figures, like JPMorgan’s, do not factor in expenses, such as gas and wear and tear, that drivers themselves must shoulder.

Competition among drivers has clearly intensified. The number of independent workers in taxi and limousine services, which includes ride-hailing companies, jumped 46 percent in 2016, the latest year for which figures are available, according to the Census Bureau.

Todd Suffreti has seen the difference in the two years that he’s driven for Uber. Suffreti, who works out of Frederick, Maryland, says his weekly income has dropped by a quarter since he began.

“It’s really saturated, and the calls don’t come in as often,” said Suffreti, 45. “It’s not like it used to be. I have to work harder and longer to get what I used to get.”

For drivers, online income now makes up just 26 percent of their total annual earnings, the JPMorgan study found — down from nearly 52 percent in October 2013.

Research by Uber’s chief economist, Jonathan Hall, and John Horton of New York University found that when Uber raised its fares, drivers initially earned more money. But there were offsetting effects: The higher rates attracted more drivers while reducing the number of trips consumers made. Overall earnings for drivers soon fell back to their previous levels.

The JPMorgan study found that transportation — including package delivery and moving — is increasingly the dominant force in the gig economy. Transportation makes up 56 percent of all gig work, up from just 6 percent in 2013. Selling items through such online sites as eBay and Etsy has sunk to 19 percent of gig work, down from 72 percent.

“It’s really those transportation platforms that have grown tremendously and now represent the lion’s share of the dollars and participation,” Grieg said.

People who participate in leasing websites, such as Airbnb and car rental site Truro, are earning much more — averaging $2,113 in March of this year. But just 0.2 percent of households participate in such sites, the study found.

 

Malawi Moves to Improve its Struggling Tourism Industry

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Malawi continues to struggle to develop its tourism industry, despite having several attractions, including national parks, game reserves and mountains. But the government has developed a Tourism Strategic Plan that seeks to address challenges to attracting more tourists. Lameck Masina reports on Malawi’s efforts to develop the industry, after attending a recent tourism street carnival in the country’s commercial capital, Blantyre.

Pompeo: US Would Win Trade War with China

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vows the United States will be victorious in any trade war with China, a day before the Trump administration’s latest tariffs on Chinese imports go into effect.

Pompeo told Fox News on Sunday. “We are going to get an outcome which forces China to behave in a way that if you want to be a power, a global power… you do not steal intellectual property.”

The Trump administration has argued tariffs on Chinese goods would force China to trade on more favorable terms with the United States.

It has demanded that China better protect American intellectual property, including ending the practice of cyber theft. The Trump administration has also called on China to allow U.S. companies greater access to Chinese markets and to cut its U.S. trade surplus.

Last week, the United States ordered duties on another $200 billion of Chinese goods to go into effect on September 24 (Monday). China responded by adding $60 billion of U.S. products to its import tariff list.

The Untied States already has imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, and China has retaliated on an equal amount of U.S. goods.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump threatened more tariffs on Chinese goods — another $267 billion worth of duties that would cover virtually all the goods China imports to the United States.

 

Comcast Outbids Fox With $40B Offer for Sky

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Comcast beat Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox in the battle for Sky after offering 30.6 billion pounds ($40 billion) for the British broadcaster, in a dramatic auction to decide the fate of the pay-television group.

U.S. cable giant Comcast bid 17.28 pounds a share for control of London-listed Sky, bettering a 15.67 offer by Fox, the Takeover Panel said in a  statement shortly after final bids were made Saturday.

Comcast’s final offer was significantly higher than its bid going into the auction of 14.75 pounds, and compares with Sky’s closing share price of 15.85 pounds on Friday.

Brian Roberts, chairman and chief executive of Comcast, coveted Sky to expand its international presence as growth slows in its core U.S. market.

Owning Sky will make Comcast the world’s largest pay-TV operator with around 52 million customers.

“This is a great day for Comcast,” Roberts said on Saturday. “This acquisition will allow us to quickly, efficiently and meaningfully increase our customer base and expand internationally.”

Comcast, which also owns the NBC network and movie studio Universal Pictures, encouraged Sky shareholders to accept its offer. It said it wanted to complete the deal by the end of October.

Comcast, which requires 50 percent plus one share of Sky’s equity to win control, said it was also seeking to buy Sky shares in the market.

A spokesman for Fox, which has a 39 percent holding in Sky, declined to comment.

The quick-fire auction marked a dramatic climax to a protracted transatlantic bidding battle waged since February, when Comcast gate-crashed Fox’s takeover of Sky.

It is a blow to media mogul Murdoch, 87, and the U.S. media and entertainment group that he controls, which had been trying to take full ownership of Sky since December 2016.

It is also a setback for U.S. entertainment giant Walt Disney, which agreed on a separate $71 billion deal to buy the bulk of Fox’s film and TV assets, including the Sky stake, in June and would have taken ownership of the British broadcaster following a successful Fox takeover.

UK PM’s Team Make Plans for Snap Election

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British Prime Minister Theresa May’s aides have begun contingency planning for a snap election in November to save both Brexit and her job, the Sunday Times reported.

The newspaper said that two senior members of May’s Downing Street political team began “war-gaming” an autumn vote to win public backing for a new plan, after her Brexit proposals were criticized at a summit in Salzburg last week.

Downing Street was not immediately available to comment on the report.

Meanwhile, opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn said Saturday that his party would challenge May on any Brexit deal she could strike with Brussels, and he said there should be a national election if the deal fell short.

The British government said Saturday that it would not “capitulate” to European Union demands in Brexit talks and again urged the bloc to engage with its proposals after May said Brexit talks with the EU had hit an impasse.

“We will challenge this government on whatever deal it brings back on our six tests, on jobs, on living standards, on environmental protections,” Corbyn told a rally in Liverpool, northern England, on the eve of Labor’s annual conference.

“And if this government can’t deliver, then I simply say to Theresa May the best way to settle this is by having a general election.”

Labor’s six tests consist of whether a pact would provide for fair migration, a collaborative relationship with the EU, national security and cross-border crime safeguards, even treatment for all U.K. regions, protection of workers’ rights, and maintenance of single-market benefits.

US-China Tensions Rise as Beijing Summons US Ambassador

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Tensions between China and the United States escalated Saturday as China’s Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad to issue a harsh protest against U.S. sanctions set for the purchase of Russian fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles.

The move came hours after China canceled trade talks with the U.S. following Washington’s imposition of new tariffs on Chinese goods.

The statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website called the imposition of sanctions “a serious violation of the basic principles of international law” and a “hegemonic act.” The ministry also wrote, “Sino-Russian military cooperation is the normal cooperation of the two sovereign states, and the U.S. has no right to interfere.” The U.S. actions, it said, “have seriously damaged the relations” with China. 

China had earlier called on the U.S. to withdraw the sanctions, and speaking to reporters Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing had lodged an official protest with the United States.

China’s purchase of the weapons from Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport violated a 2017 U.S. law intended to punish the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin for interfering in U.S. elections and other activities. The U.S. action set in motion a visa ban on China’s Equipment Development Department and director Li Shangfu, forbids transactions with the U.S. financial system, and blocks all property and interests in property involving the country within U.S. jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported that China had planned to send Vice Premier Liu He to Washington next week for trade talks, but canceled his trip, along with that of a midlevel delegation that was to precede him.

Earlier Friday, a senior White House official had said the U.S. was optimistic about finding a way forward in trade talks with China.

The official told reporters at the White House that China “must come to the table in a meaningful way” for there to be progress on the trade dispute. 

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while there was no confirmed meeting between the United States and China, the two countries “remain in touch.”

“The president’s team is all on the same page as to what’s required from China,” according to the official.

The Trump administration has argued that tariffs on Chinese goods would force China to trade on more favorable terms with the United States. 

It has demanded that China better protect American intellectual property, including ending the practice of cybertheft. The Trump administration has also called on China to allow U.S. companies greater access to Chinese markets and to cut its U.S. trade surplus.

Earlier this week, the United States ordered duties on another $200 billion of Chinese goods to go into effect on Sept. 24. China responded by adding $60 billion of U.S. products to its import tariff list.

The United States already has imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, and China has retaliated on an equal amount of U.S. goods.

Rising Oil Prices Haven’t Hurt US Economy

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America’s rediscovered prowess in oil production is shaking up old notions about the impact of higher crude prices on the U.S. economy.

It has long been conventional wisdom that rising oil prices hurt the economy by forcing consumers to spend more on gasoline and heating their homes, leaving less for other things.

Presumably that kind of run-up would slow the U.S. economy. Instead, the economy grew at its fastest rate in nearly four years during the April-through-June quarter.

President Donald Trump appears plainly worried about rising oil prices just a few weeks before mid-term elections that will decide which party controls the House and Senate.

“We protect the countries of the Middle East, they would not be safe for very long without us, and yet they continue to push for higher and higher oil prices!” Trump tweeted Thursday. “We will remember. The OPEC monopoly must get prices down now!”

Members of The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, who account for about one-third of global oil supplies, are scheduled to meet this weekend with non-members including Russia.

The gathering isn’t expected to yield any big decisions — those typically come at major OPEC meetings like the one set for December. Oil markets, however, were roiled Friday by a report that attendees were considering a significant increase in production to offset declining output from Iran, where exports have fallen ahead of Trump’s re-imposition of sanctions.

OPEC and Russia have capped production since January 2017 to bolster prices. Output fell even below those targets this year, and in June the same countries agreed to boost the oil supply, although they didn’t give numbers.

Rising oil prices

Oil prices are up roughly 40 percent in the past year. On Friday, benchmark U.S. crude was trading around $71 a barrel, and the international standard, Brent, was closing in on $80.

The national average price for gasoline stood at $2.85 per gallon, up 10 percent from a year ago, according to auto club AAA. That increase likely would be greater were it not for a slump in gasoline demand that is typical for this time of year, when summer vacations are over.

The United States still imports about 6 million barrels of oil a day on average, but that is down from more than 10 million a decade ago. In the same period, U.S. production has doubled to more than 10 million barrels a day, according to government figures.

“Because the U.S. now is producing so much more than it used to, [the rise in oil prices] is not as big an impact as it would have been 20 years ago or 10 years ago,” said Michael Maher, an energy researcher at Rice University and a former Exxon Mobil economist.

The weakening link between oil and the overall economy was seen — in reverse — three years ago. Then, plunging oil prices were expected to boost the economy by leaving more money in consumers’ pocket, yet GDP growth slowed at the same time that lower oil prices took hold during 2015.

Other economists caution against minimizing the disruption caused by energy prices.

“Higher oil prices are unambiguously bad for the U.S. economy,” said Philip Verleger, an economist who has studied energy markets. “They force consumers to divert their income from spending on other items to spending on fuels.”

Since energy amounts to only about 3 percent of consumer spending, a cutback in that other 97 percent “causes losses for those who sell autos, restaurants, airlines, resorts and all parts of the economy,” Verleger said.

Pack leader

The federal Energy Information Administration said this month that the U.S. likely reclaimed the title of world’s biggest oil producer earlier this year by surpassing the output of Saudi Arabia in February and Russia over the summer. If the agency’s estimates are correct, it would mark the first time since 1973 that the U.S. has led the oil-pumping pack.

And that has made the impact of oil prices on the economy a more complicated calculation.

When oil prices tumbled starting in mid-2014, U.S. energy producers cut back on drilling. They cut thousands of jobs and they spent less on rigs, steel pipes and railcars to ship crude to refineries. That softened the bounce that economists expected to see from cheaper oil.

Now, with oil prices rising, energy companies are boosting production, creating an economic stimulus that offsets some of the blow from higher prices on consumers. Oil- and gas-related investment accounted for about 40 percent of the growth in business investment in the April-June quarter this year.

Moody’s Analytics estimates that every penny increase at the pump reduces consumer spending by $1 billion over a year, and gasoline has jumped 24 cents in the past year, according to AAA. That is “a clear-cut negative,” but not deeply damaging, said Ryan Sweet, director of real-time economics at Moody’s.

“Usually with gasoline prices, speed kills — a gradual increase [like the current one], consumers can absorb that,” Sweet said. Consumers have other factors in their favor, he added, including a tight job market, wage growth, better household balance sheets, and the recent tax cut.

Sweet said the boon that higher prices represent to the growing energy sector, which can invest in more wells, equipment and hiring, means that the run-up in crude has probably been “a small but net positive” for the economy.

“That could change if we get up to $3.50, $4,” he said.

China Cancels Trade Talks with US After New Tariffs

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China has canceled trade talks with the United States following Washington’s imposition of new tariffs on Chinese goods.

The Wall Street Journal reports that China had planned to send Vice Premier Liu He to Washington next week for the talks, but has now canceled his trip along with that of a midlevel delegation that was to precede him.

US was optimistic

Earlier Friday, a senior White House official said the U.S. was optimistic about finding a way forward in trade talks with China.

The official told reporters at the White House that China “must come to the table in a meaningful way” for there to be progress on the trade dispute.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said while there was no confirmed meeting between the United States and China, the two countries “remain in touch.”

“The president’s team is all on the same page as to what’s required from China,” according to the official.

Trade imbalance

The Trump administration has argued that tariffs on Chinese goods would force China to trade on more favorable terms with the United States.

It has demanded that China better protect American intellectual property, including ending the practice of cybertheft. The Trump administration has also called on China to allow U.S. companies greater access to Chinese markets and to cut its U.S. trade surplus.

Earlier this week, the United States ordered duties on another $200 billion of Chinese goods to go into effect Sept. 24. China responded by adding $60 billion of U.S. products to its import tariff list.

The United States has imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, and China has retaliated on an equal amount of U.S. goods.

Tariffs on all China imports?

Earlier this month, President Trump threatened even more tariffs on Chinese goods — another $267 billion worth of duties that would cover virtually all the goods China imports to the United States.

“That changes the equation,” he told reporters.

China has threatened to retaliate against any potential new tariffs. However, China’s imports from the United States are $200 billion a year less than American imports from China, so it would run out of room to match U.S. sanctions.

Technology Enhances Food Delivery Experiences

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Self-driving technology is making online shopping a more convenient, more cost-effective experience. One new startup in San Jose, California, is launching a fully driverless delivery service, which many predict is something customers will be seeing a lot more of in the future. Faiza Elmasry takes a look at how these driverless cars are making people’s lives easier, in this report narrated by Faith Lapidus.