Contrary to what you might think, very few Canadians actually derive supplemental income from online platforms like Uber and Airbnb, members of the so-called “sharing economy”.
A new Ratehub.ca survey polling 1,208 Canadians, found that out of 22 percent of respondents who live in Toronto and Vancouver, only eight percent use the sharing economy as a side hustle of sorts. In fact, only 11 percent of millennials participated in the sharing economy, and not a single baby boomer did.
“The results of the survey are quite consistent with a recent Stats Can study on the sharing economy,” Sunil Johal, Policy Director at University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre told VICE Money. “Only 0.3 percent of Canadians have offered ride-sharing services, and only 0.2 percent make money from short-term rental sites like Airbnb.”
Last fall, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives conducted a similar survey, polling 2,300 Toronto residents to gauge the extent to which they participate in the sharing economy. “It’s a surprisingly small percentage of the workforce. Only nine percent of those we polled said they have worked or currently work in the sharing economy,” said Trish Hennessy, founding director of the CCPA’s Ontario office.
Just to be clear, the sharing economy should not be confused with the gig economy. The former is made up of people who make money using peer-to-peer online platforms like Uber, Airbnb and Etsy. The gig economy refers to workers who derive their income from part-time work or contract jobs — freelance writers, workers on short-term construction projects etc. The growth of both these types of economies, however, has been blamed for the slow demise of full-time jobs.
Companies like Uber have been heavily criticized for displacing workers with full-time jobs driving taxis, for those who work flexible, unstable hours, and receive no long-term benefits. Some even think the term “sharing economy” is a misnomer, because the rise of online peer-to-peer platforms that displace the middle-man serves only to exacerbate income inequality.
But, it turns out, the growth of the sharing economy, at least in Canada, is only a small component of why young people are struggling to find full-time jobs.
“I don’t think the sharing economy should be blamed for the fact that people have a hard time finding permanent jobs. If the sharing economy helps alleviate some of those stresses, policymakers should be welcoming that,” said Johal.
According to Johal, the real reason why young people are finding it increasingly hard to obtain stable, full-time employment is because of a change in corporate strategy and the emphasis on profit-making over the last 35 years.
It is much more lucrative for companies to hire workers on a temporary or part-time basis, and keep renewing those contracts, than to make them full-time employees and pay into benefit plans. In much of the developed world, the number of university and college graduates has soared — it’s easy for companies to capitalize on this excess supply of skilled labour if the choice young people have is between a short-term contract, or no job at all.
“If we look at the proportion of the economy that’s taken up by corporate profits right now, it is 77 percent higher than it was in the early 1980s. In that same time frame, wages to Canadian workers have gone down 7.5 percent. This is a clear case of money not trickling down to middle-income and lower-income Canadians,” said Johal.
Hennessy points towards the CCPA “sharing economy” study as proof that highly educated people are having to rely on side gigs because of the difficulty they face in finding full-time work. “Over 90 percent of people in our survey of the Toronto-area, who were participating in the sharing economy had college or university degrees. They were highly educated, and still struggled to find full-time work.”
According to the Ratehub.ca survey, 53 percent of those polled supplement their income by freelance gigs, and 27 percent work part-time jobs. The latest Stats Can job numbers tell us that part-time employment has gone down slightly in Canada, but it still remains above average.
“Young people are innovative, they are doing a number of things to get by,” said Johal.
“But the balance of power between workers and companies is seriously out of whack, tilted in favour of companies. We should really be asking if there are steps we can take to address this imbalance.”