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They all warn about automation and worry that robots could replace humans in the workplace. Letting it slide further risks hamstringing the country with an outdated system that hurts both middle-class workers and, Mgazine work fear, the economy that depends on them.

The shift is already well underway. A management professor at Boston University, Weil has spent the past few decades researching and documenting the changing nature of work, including informally advising the Bill Clinton administration on labor policy.

He was confirmed by the Senate in April When Weil looked at the landscape of American business, he saw a change that went beyond the traditional labor-employer power struggle. Instead, he saw a shift in management philosophy. The more industries I looked at, the more commonly I saw that it was happening.

Back inafter early rumblings about outsourcing, the Department of Labor conducted a count of the contingent workforce in America. It followed it up with four surveys over the next 10 years.

Officially, today, Washington has no idea how big the problem is. Over the past two decades, the U. Weil eventually did have some picture, though, because two economists decided to do it themselves. Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger updated the count in by fielding a similar survey, funded with university research money, with a smaller sample size.

In some cases, the Katz-Krueger data confirmed what was already known about the labor market, such as that construction is a highly subcontracted industry; about a quarter of construction workers were contingent workers ina share that has stayed roughly constant over the past 20 years.

But in many other industries, they found the curves had begun to bend sharply upward. Init was 9 percent; it was Among health care support workers like Diana Borland, it nearly doubled, from 9.

The share of food preparation workers in contingent work had quadrupled.

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In other words, for all the concerns about Uber and other sharing economy companies using independent contractors to skirt state and federal labor laws, the shift toward these workplace arrangements predates those companies. Current Population Survey; Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger When Weil considered how to address this, he focused on two separate but related factors in the rise in contingent work.

The first was on one key question: How do companies classify their employees? From a policy perspective, worker classification is crucial.

Even more importantly for many people, benefits like employer-sponsored health insurance and retirement saving plans are also administered by employers, and are less accessible for independent contractors.

For instance, Republicans included a new credit in their tax bill that encourages companies to provide paid leave to their workers—a break that would apply to only employees, not independent contractors. More independence came with fewer social protections, a trade-off that many Americans support.

According to a Government Accountability Office reportindependent contractors are slightly more likely to be satisfied with their jobs than full-time employees, and fewer than 10 percent said they would prefer a different type of employment.

Businesses prefer these arrangements, too, because they can shed expensive benefit packages and are not responsible for following federal labor laws.

Data on misclassification are limited, but state-level audits indicate that about 10 percent to 30 percent of American workers are currently misclassified.

There are also some indications that misclassification is becoming more widespread.Working abroad during the long university summer holidays or on gap years enables students to get away and earn money at the same time.

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