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The Platform Economy

While developed countries in Europe, North America, and Asia are rapidly aging, emerging economies are predominantly youthful. Nigerian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese young people will shape global work trends at an increasingly rapid pace, bringing to bear their experience in dynamic informal markets on a tech-enabled gig economy.

WASHINGTON, DC – Hardly a day goes by without another article, conference, or research initiative devoted to the future of work. The robots are coming, or they’re not coming as fast as we think; when they do come, they’ll put everyone out of work, or they’ll create as many jobs as they destroy. Thus the conversation goes. But what if, instead of trying to predict the future, we look at realities that exist today for billions of people?

Some 80% of the global population lives in emerging economies – defined by informal markets and fluid employment structures. The SHIFT: Commission on Work, Workers, and Technology invited groups in five cities across the United States to imagine four scenarios along two axes of change – more or less work, and more jobs or more tasks. Participants were divided as to the amount of future work, but almost all foresaw the continuing disaggregation of jobs into tasks in both low- and high-end work, from driving to lawyering. That is the reality in emerging economies today.

Examining work patterns in these diverse countries yields three key lessons. First, people layer multiple work streams and derive income from more than one source. Second, platform economies are emerging rapidly and build on traditional networks. Finally, these work patterns often go hand in hand with dramatic income inequality.

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