Wage and salary employment has been the historic backbone of the U.S. economy, an arrangement in which workers are employed by a business or organization, and receive a wage or salary and often benefits like healthcare.

Economic development leaders — including those in rural America — tend to focus on wage and salary employment alone. But across rural America, independent contracting and self-employment are growing at a much faster rate than traditional wage and salary employment. With funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Research and National Technical Assistance (RNTA) program, the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) put together a series of five briefs offering insight into what the future of work means for rural America.

This third brief addresses the growth of gig and independent work, and digs into the scope, scale, opportunities, and risks of the gig economy in the context of rural America.

Based on a historical and economic analysis, we provide six recommendations for rural leaders to consider when creating economic and workforce development strategies and programs:

  • Understand the state of contract-based employment, freelance employment, and self-employment in your region, and incorporate it into your economic tracking and strategy. 
  • Ensure access to broadband so gig workers can find and deliver work using technology platforms. 
  • Connect gig workers in tech fields to local businesses. 
  • Build training ecosystems that connect workers with the training they need to take advantage of growing opportunities in the gig economy. 
  • Connect gig and freelance workers with entrepreneurship support resources. 
  • Create many spaces, places, and programs where gig workers can meet and network. 

Through this work, we aim to equip rural economic and workforce development leaders with the latest research and thinking on the future of work to help inform strategy, programs, and planning work.

Read the report:

This content was prepared by Rural Innovations Strategies, Inc. using Federal funds under award ED20HDQ3120070 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.