Federal Government Hopes to Get a Grasp on the Sharing Economy

Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez says he traveled to Silicon Valley to try to update how the government tracks the workforce.

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By Catherine Clifford

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Uncle Sam is trying to keep up with Silicon Valley.

Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez says that this week he traveled to the startup hub to talk with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and industry leaders about the evolving workforce.

"Thanks in large measure to innovation in recent decades there, the American workforce -- and the very nature of work -- is experiencing some profound changes," Perez wrote in a recent blog post. "It's not just the growth of new technologies, but also the rise of entirely new industries and new job structures."

The expansion of the gig, or freelance economy, has been largely fueled by the expansion of the sharing economy, which includes companies such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Postmates and Taskrabbit. Instead of holding one full-time job with a single company, individuals are increasingly creating their own web of multiple part-time, flexible jobs.

The trouble for the government, though, is that this tech-enabled evolution in the job market is particularly hard to track.

Related: The Sharing Economy Is More than a Buzzword. It's Changing How We Live.

"This is an exciting, entrepreneurial development that is tapping into powerful consumer demand while giving workers flexibility and enabling them to monetize existing assets, like their cars or extra rooms in their homes," Perez says. "At the same time, the on-demand economy raises important questions about how to continue upholding time-honored labor standards and how to promote economic security for American workers in a changing labor market."

To generate national-level data on this rising gig economy, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will partner with the Census Bureau to bring back the Contingent Worker Supplement, which tracks independent contractors, temporary employees and workers holding multiple jobs at the same time. The Contingent Worker Supplement will be part of the next population survey, expected in May 2017.

The government is not alone in its struggle to keep pace with the recent rapid evolution of the job market. Uber has been involved in legal battles over whether drivers on the platform should be considered employees or contractors.

To be sure, we are only just starting to understand the far-reaching implications of the recent reinvention of the workforce.

Related: What a Sharing Economy Startup Does to Build Trust in Its Community
Catherine Clifford

Senior Entrepreneurship Writer at CNBC

Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.

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