Remote Jobs Are Better Than Gig Economy Jobs


Fred Perrotta

Remote jobs hold more potential for spreading economic opportunity and reducing inequality than the non-HQ jobs created by the tech sector. The latter includes gig economy jobs (Uber drivers), contract jobs (Facebook and Google moderators), and the other high-headcount, low wage jobs (Amazon warehouse workers).

A Vox profile of Silicon Valley Representative Ro Khanna made clear the shortcomings of the gig and contractor jobs created by the tech sector. Under the heading, "Silicon Valley’s great wealth suck":

Imagine if these companies succeeded beyond their wildest dreams... That might be a world where Silicon Valley is creating a lot of jobs, and some of them would even be good jobs. But it’d be a world where Silicon Valley is taking all the wealth and all the power. It’d be spreading the labor but hoarding the capital.

There's the problem. The "good" jobs created by tech companies are legitimately excellent: well-paid, interesting knowledge work, with the ability to impact the world. The problem is that those jobs are at company HQ in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle.  

The median Facebook employee makes almost $250,000 once you add up salary, bonuses, and options. But as Casey Newton reported at The Verge, the work lives of Facebook’s content moderators in Arizona are borderline hellish, with low wages, panopticon-style work surveillance, and the constant trauma of staring into the platform’s seedy underbelly.

This is the same dichotomy as Amazon's HQ employees vs its warehouse employees.

Or Uber's employees vs its drivers as noted by NYU Professor Scott Galloway after the Uber IPO:

We've sequestered the mostly non-white, mostly non-college-educated drivers (3.9 million of them) from the mostly white, mostly college-educated employees (22,000 of them) at HQ, who will split, with their investors, the value of BMW and Ford. Btw, BMW and Ford employ 334,000 people. Pretty sure most have health insurance. The average hourly wage at Ford is $26/hr. At Uber, it's $9/hr.

Galloway has long predicted that a foreign country, probably in the EU, would ban a US tech platform like Facebook as other countries face all of the negative externalities but reap fewer of the benefits (HQ jobs, IPO windfalls).

You can't rebuild a decimated, Rust Belt city like my hometown on the back of an Amazon warehouse and some Uber rides. You can create economic opportunity by offering HQ-caliber jobs in non-HQ cities. How? Remote work.

Imagine if Uber's 22,000 HQ jobs were as spread out geographically as Automattic's 700 people in 60 countries.

The counterpoint is obvious here: many of the gig and contractor jobs have little to no qualifications. They're available to anyone regardless of education or experience. High salary remote jobs aren't an option for everyone.

My point is that we must do a better job of disbursing the high-paid jobs, not just the low-paid ones.

A global platform like Amazon runs the risk of replacing local business and funneling the profits to Seattle rather than keeping them in local communities.

Distributing more high-paying jobs would distribute more opportunity, generate more jobs locally where the workers choose to be based, and help to alleviate housing demand and cost of living pressures in major metros.

Highly-paid remote work is not a cure-all solution for every American worker outside of a major metro area. However, every job that migrates from an expensive, in-demand city elsewhere in a win.