The gig economy is growing rapidly. According to U.S. News, one in three workers is now working in the gig economy. Still, whether you’re an intentional gig worker or you’re taking on the occasional gig to supplement your income or make ends meet through temporary unemployment, the workforce is increasingly turning to the freelance economy to earn a living. For gig workers seeking opportunity, some areas prove to be more fruitful than others.
The Gig Economy is Concentrated in Major Metros
According to recent data from The Brookings Institution, gig-style jobs tend to be concentrated in larger metropolitan areas, particularly in major cities in the western part of the U.S., such as San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles. This concentration in populous metro areas can be attributed, at least in part, to the rapid rise of ride-sharing platforms like Uber and Lyft and to the growth of Airbnb – a facet of the industry that The Brookings Institution calls “rides and rooms.”
Frequent business travelers, for instance, are more likely to travel to major cities and metros, making use of both room rentals through Airbnb and ride-sharing services with Uber or Lyft, making opportunities for gig workers in this sector much more plentiful in these locations.
According to the report, “No less than 81 percent of the four-year net growth in nonemployer firms in the rides sector took place in the 25 largest metros, while 92 percent occurred in the largest 50 metros.”
The Top 10 Metros for Gig Economy Workers
We looked at research from The Brookings Institution as well as Thumbtack.com to find out where the gig economy is growing fastest, with the most widespread adoption and greatest opportunities for those considering joining (or already engaged in) the gig economy, or what some call the contingent workforce. The Brookings Institute covers the 50 largest metro areas and ranks them in terms of the most gig economy growth, while Thumbtack lists the top 20 cities for per-capita digital marketplace adoption, based on cities with more than one million residents.
Thumbtack’s estimate is developed using Twitter geolocation data as a proxy for digital marketplace adoption, under the working theory that platforms with a larger number of Twitter followers in an area are likely to have more users in that same region. The approach was validated by comparing the location of Thumbtack’s Twitter followers’ locations to its internal data. This methodology was then expanded to 10 of the largest digital marketplaces, including Upwork, Taskrabbit, and Uber, among others.
The Brookings Institution, on the other hand, measured growth in gig economy employment between 2012 and 2014, ranking the top 50 metros in the traveler accommodation and ground transportation industries separately.
We analyzed this data to identify the locations with the most gig economy growth and most widespread usage of digital marketplaces to identify the 10 best cities for gig economy workers below.
1. San Francisco, CA
Thumbtack points out that San Francisco, CA, being the epicenter of the modern tech scene, was an unsurprising leader in digital marketplace adoption. It lands second in terms of growth among gig employment in the traveler accommodations sector in Brookings’ research, with 43.5 percent growth from 2012 to 2014, and also second on Brookings’ rankings for growth in gig employment in the ground transportation sector, with 141.7 percent growth between 2012 and 2014.
2. San Jose, CA
San Jose leads the pack in The Brookings Institution’s research, edging out San Francisco with gig employment growth of 144.8% between 2012 and 2014 in the ground transportation sector. It lands further down the list for growth in traveler accommodation gigs, however, with 36.7 percent growth – landing in fifth place.
3. Seattle, WA
Seattle lands right behind San Jose in The Brookings Institute’s rankings among areas with 28.5 percent growth in gig employment in the travel accommodations sector. In the ground transportation rankings, it falls a bit lower at #13, albeit still with an impressive 82.4 percent growth from 2012 to 2014. In Thumbtack’s rankings, the city of Seattle lands near the middle of the pack at #11.
4. Boston, MA
In the traveler accommodations sector, the Boston metro grew by 24.3 percent between 2012 and 2014, while the area experienced much larger growth – 94 percent – in gig employment in the ground transportation sector. According to Thumbtack’s data, Boston lands at #7 among cities with the most digital marketplace users.
5. Las Vegas, NV
Being a popular tourist destination, like many areas on this list, Las Vegas is probably a no-brainer for gig workers who want to engage in the travel accommodations or ground transportation sectors. It lands at #9 according to Thumbtack’s data, and per The Brookings Institution’s findings, Las Vegas experienced 17.7 percent growth in gig employment in the travel accommodations sector and 105.3 percent growth in gig employment in the ground transportation sector.
6. Los Angeles, CA
Another massive city, another major metro, another area that’s ripe with opportunity for gig workers. Surprisingly, Los Angeles lands a bit further down in Thumbtack’s rankings among cities with the most digital marketplace users, at #14. Between 2012 and 2014, employment in travel accommodations gigs grew by 22.7 percent, and employment in ground transportation gigs grew by 135.9 percent – landing it in the top three for growth in gigs for ride-sharing and similar services.
7. San Diego, CA
San Diego, CA doesn’t land in Thumbtack’s top 10; instead, it falls in at #16 among cities with the most widespread digital marketplace adoption. According to The Brookings Institution, employment in traveler accommodation gigs grew by 23.1 percent between 2012 and 2014, while workers interested in gigs for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft benefited from a healthy growth of 109.4 percent in the same period.
8. Denver, CO
Denver ranks 10th among the areas with the most growth in ground transportation, with gig employment growing 87.8 percent between 2012 and 2014. Like most areas, growth in traveler accommodations lagged a bit behind, although Denver still experienced 16.4 percent growth in this sector. It lands 17th among Thumbtack’s top 20 cities with the most digital marketplace adoption.
Most people know Nashville as the “Country Music Capital of the World” or “Music City,” and the area attracts large numbers of visitors and tourists regularly to its many attractions. So, it’s not a big surprise that Nashville earns a spot on this list, landing 5th among cities with the most digital marketplace adoption per Thumbtack’s data. Data from The Brookings Institution reveals 21.5 percent growth in gig employment in the traveler accommodations sector and 106.5 percent growth in gig employment for ground transportation.
10. Austin, TX
While we only found the nine cities above on both Brookings lists that also appear in Thumbtack’s top 20, we chose Austin to round out our own top 10 due to its prominence in The Brookings Institution’s data. The Austin, TX area experienced the most growth overall in gig employment in traveler accommodation, outpacing even San Francisco by several percentage points with 48.2 percent growth. In the ground transportation sector, gig employment also experienced healthy growth from 2012 to 2014: 135.5 percent.
So, if you’re thinking of making a move and want to earn a living in the gig economy, opportunities for work are vast in many regions throughout the U.S. – but if you have your mind set on making your new home in a city that promises abundance, you can’t go wrong with one of these 10 prosperous cities for gig economy workers.