Could Trump’s presidency upend the gig economy and those who rely on it?
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The gig economy stimulates economic growth and entrepreneurship, providing a way for millions around the world to pursue flexible work. It matured under an administration that indirectly nurtured this type of independent work — which at times may have been the only work available for many — through a number of policy initiatives. While a combination of economic conditions and advances in technology played a large role, some of the policies set in place by the Obama administration created a healthy environment for freelancers to pursue their careers without some of the risk that comes with setting out on one’s own. 

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The proof of this growing segment? There are currently 55 million freelancers working in the U.S today with some projecting an increase to 60 million by 2020. Many of them serve the 28 million small businesses in the U.S. that rely on their expertise to develop and grow their businesses. 

 

Though President-elect Trump touted his own business expertise as the basis for his campaign, his administration stands as a threat to many of today’s entrepreneurs, independent workers and freelancers. There’s still uncertainty around how Trump’s policies will affect certain aspects of business, but there are three issues in particular that could be detrimental to today’s growing entrepreneurial community. As we enter the next four years of Trump’s presidency, it will be important to keep an eye on how these issues develop. 

Immigration 

As a non-American who spends roughly half his time in the U.S., let me assure you--America is already pretty damn great. A big part of that has to do with the opportunities that exist here for entrepreneurs from anywhere. More than half of U.S. tech startups valued at $1 billion or more have at least one immigrant founder. Make no mistake about it, these folks aren’t working to solve just immigrant problems — they’re solving problems that impact all of us. But will that continue?

While on the campaign trail, Trump sent mixed signals on H-1B visas — an avenue to admit 65,000 workers and 20,000 graduate students each year. Tech companies rely on these visas to hire highly-skilled, well-paid workers who are in short supply. More than just filling out the rosters of some of the largest innovation hubs in Silicon Valley, these visas are critical for innovation and for entrepreneurship at large. Diversity and inclusion are necessary components for American innovation, and progressive immigration policies enable entrepreneurs to attract and retain some of the brightest minds on earth. 

Trump and his proposed Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsCurtis wins Chaffetz's former Utah House seat Overnight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny FBI can’t unlock Texas shooter’s phone MORE are planning to institute a requirement that forces tech companies to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. Not only will this policy change make it harder for tech companies to find qualified workers, it will also expand the diversity problem in Silicon Valley. Without immigrants and diverse tech talent, Silicon Valley could revert back to being predominantly white and male. 

The Affordable Care Act

Trump’s plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act would have a huge impact on millennials and boomers. Millennials make up 34 percent of the workforce in the U.S. and some estimates have them as 40 percent of the full-time independent workforce. Based on what we know about their work habits, they value flexibility and remote work, and thus are major players in the gig economy. 

Many millennials are still on their parents’ healthcare plans (if they are under the age of 26) or are enrolled in the Healthcare.gov marketplace. Revoking their current healthcare policies could discourage them from taking career risks in favor of traditional employment that comes with health benefits. Additionally, many boomers choose freelance work as a second career, but threats on Medicare make it difficult to pursue these opportunities. 

The Affordable Care Act created an option for many of the small business owners and entrepreneurs within the Gig Economy to have healthcare that was otherwise inaccessible. Even with the threat of repeal hanging over the marketplace, 6.4 million Americans have already signed up this year. Without the option of Healthcare.gov or something equally as beneficial, entrepreneurship and growth in the gig economy could curtail over time as would-be entrepreneurs or Gig workers are forced into careers that offer benefits. 

Student loan debt forgiveness

Today’s college graduates know they’ll be dealing with student loan debt for a long time, and the numbers bear it out: Forty-four million Americans collectively owe $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. With that kind of debt hanging over a graduate’s head, how can a young entrepreneur make sense of the risks inherent in pursuing a passion? What about a freelancer? Entrepreneurship and success in the Gig Economy comes down to being willing to take some risk. Not forgiving at least a portion of student debt cuts off opportunity for young Americans and forces them toward traditional careers that on the surface might offer more stability, but in reality stunts new ideas and innovation.

While the issue of student loan debt is much larger than any single piece of legislation, an important bill could be reversed in January, eliminating student loan forgiveness for some college grads. Whether that comes down to playing politics, it has the potential to affect a lot of students and their ability to succeed in this new economy.

There’s no way of knowing for sure what changes the Trump administration will bring. However, Trump’s policies could squeeze entrepreneurs and members of the gig economy from a number of angles. Whether it’s immigration rhetoric and policies that curb fresh ideas and new faces, healthcare rollbacks that leave entrepreneurs and freelancers in the cold, or policies that hamstring the newest additions to the workforce, there’s a lot to be concerned about. But with a rapidly growing portion of the economy to reckon with, Trump and his administration would be wise to embrace the 55 million strong freelance workforce and 28-million strong small business owners. 

 

Micha Kaufman is chief executive officer and co-founder of Fiverr, a company that connects entrepreneurs with businesses internationally. Since its 2010 launch, Fiverr has became a leader in the multibillion dollar freelance industry, enabling freelancers and entrepreneurs to start doing, growing and succeeding. Kaufman is also a partner at a venture capital firm and private investor in a number of disruptive consumer Internet companies, and writes for the Fiverr blogMedium and other media outlets.


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