Technology, the gig economy, and America’s changes

When was the last time you visited the USA? If your last trip was prior to 2010, you might be surprised to see precisely how North America has changed, from its cultural and political climate to the growing use of technology in almost every area of contemporary life.

Not all of these changes have been for the better, of course, with the Donald Trump administration creating a bitter social and political divide that has yet to be fully healed.

However, some changes have delivered various benefits to the US, both economically and in terms of citizens’ everyday lifestyles.

We’ll look at precisely how the US has changed over the course of the last decade or so, as new technologies and industries thrived while others became increasingly moribund.

The Rise of Technology and the Gig Economy>

From smartphones to social media usage, technology, and digitization became the norm during the 2010s.

As of April 2021, some 85% of US adults owned a smartphone, while nine-in-10 North American adults regularly went online at the end of 2010s.

We’ve seen this growth not just in the standard smartphone and computer industry but even across video games as well. From the beginnings of the Game Boy, when video games were still very much a niche hobby, to the present day when the Switch, Steam Deck, and endless levels of Candy Crush have become a huge pastime for millions of users.

What’s more, 72% of US adults said that they used social media at the end of this decade, and while the growth and adoption of such technologies have slowed of late, this simply reflects that there aren’t too many non-users left. This is especially true among prominent younger generations, with 93% of Millennials owning smartphones and virtually 100% frequently using the internet.

These technological trends have also dramatically impacted everyday life and the labor market. For example, social media is now a key pathway to news for Americans, with 2018 seeing sites like Facebook and Twitter surpass print newspapers as the primary news source stateside. More specifically, one-in-five adults said they frequently sourced news from social media, with just 16% of respondents treating print media similarly.

We’ve also seen the dramatic rise of the gig economy in the last decade, originating in the wake of the financial crash and leveraging technology to maximize worker freedom and popularize the idea of flexible working.

While some argue that gig workers lack traditional employment protections, the percentage of Americans engaging in this market more than doubled from 15.8% in 2015 to 36% just four years later.

The number of digital nomads in the US increased by 49% in 2020 as people work increasingly independently and freelance their skills where possible.

The Rise of Online Gambling

North America has always had a tempestuous relationship with gambling, both from the perspective of casino and sports betting.

However, the last decade has seen this tide begin to turn, with six states having legalized online casino gambling since 2011 (namely Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Connecticut, and West Virginia).

The WV online casino market has seen particularly pronounced growth since the end of 2021, with this encouraging further sites to consider legalizing iGaming going forward. As for sports betting, May 2018 saw the Supreme Court strike down the controversial PAPSA legislation, which had historically prohibited sports betting at a federal level. Since then, some 36 individual state authorities have legalized online and mobile sports betting, while others also intend to follow suit in the coming years.

Not only has this increased the number of gamblers in the US, but it has also precipitated a transition from offline to online wagering. States that have legalized iGaming or remote sports betting (or both) have also banked considerable Treasury returns, with this money subsequently reinvested into the wider economy.

A Change in How People Live

According to Pew Research, the 2010s was also the first decade in at least 160 years to see an increase in the average number of people in US households nationwide.

One of the main factors behind this increase is the sheer volume of Americans living in multigenerational households.

In 2016, this number peaked at a record 64 million people (or 20% of the US population), including younger citizens who had taken the decision to move in with their parents.

This trend began in earnest after the great recession of 2008, and while the economy has recovered partially since then, this process has been further hampered by the coronavirus and the threat of another global recession.

Another factor here is that a growing number of Americans are now ‘doubled up’ in shared living quarters, with this also driven by economic challenges and the rising cost of living (which is, in turn, being compounded by rampant inflation).

Like many developed economies, the US is seeing house prices grow at a disproportionate rate to earnings.

Between 2017 and 2021 alone, house values rose by an average of 17.8%, while median income increased by just 6.2% during the same period. This trend shows no sign of changing any time soon, so the US is likely to see further increase in multigenerational households in the future.

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