Staffing buyers report difficulty finding enough workers as the US economy emerges from the pandemic. The reasons could range from increased unemployment payments to childcare concerns to fear of getting sick and more.

“For most organizations, contingent workers equate to workforce agility,” says Chris Paden, SIA’s director of contingent workforce strategies and research. “In this uncertain market, a contingent workforce can give organizations flexibility with the number of workers needed and the rate that the market is demanding while enlisting scalable support from partners to deliver workers quicker and more efficiently than an employee hiring process.”

And an SIA report reveals the numbers have declined. Contingent workers represented 35% of the US workforce last year, or 51.5 million people, according to SIA’s new report, “The US Gig Economy – 2021 Edition.” This is down from 54.0 million contingent workers representing 34% of all workers in SIA’s report covering 2019.

“Driven primarily by the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns, we estimate the number of contingent workers declined slightly (from 54 million to 52 million) in 2020, consistent with the decline in the overall workforce,” the report states.

But on the bright side, SIA expects 2021 to reflect an increase in the gig economy, consistent with the recovery in the overall economy.

Temporary workers assigned by staffing firms and temporary employees sourced directly were the two groups experiencing the largest declines in 2020. However, two categories managed to increase last year: workers via talent/work services platforms and consultants employed by consulting firms. Temporary workers hired via talent and work service platforms (Uber Technologies, for example) numbered 9.6 million. Temporary employees sourced directly without the involvement of a staffing firm numbered 8.2 million. The number of SOW consultants employed by consulting firms was 1.4 million.

The number of temporary workers assigned by staffing firms is estimated at 8.5 million, according to the report. That’s higher than the 2 million to 3 million reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in its monthly jobs reports for 2020; however, SIA’s number reflects the number of workers throughout the year while the BLS number is a snapshot of one payroll period.

The largest share of contingent workers were self-employed workers with no employees. They numbered 26.5 million.

CWS Council and SIA corporate members can access the full report online.