Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service is a low-cost method of outsourcing work that computers can’t do quite yet.
Or as a Gizmodo writer smartly put it, “It's a job board where the pay is low and the jobs are dumb.” If you need something transcribed, documents sorted or another menial task performed, Mechanical Turk is the place to go. And according to new research from the Pew Center, the people around the world doing this “dumb” work are a lot more overqualified than you might think.
Data collected by Pew from February of this year say that 51 percent of Mechanical Turkers have a college degree, compared with 36 percent of the adult U.S. workforce. Additionally, 52 percent of Turkers make less than $5 per hour on a job (the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour), and 39 percent earn between $5 per hour and $7.99 per hour.
Amazon and gig economy advocates (see: Uber, Lyft, Postmates, etc.) generally say the trade-off for making less per hour is that workers have greater flexibility over the hours they choose to work. The Pew research sort of puts a dent in that argument, showing that “almost two-thirds of these workers (63%) say they perform tasks on the site ‘every day.’”
Though 53 percent of people say that “very little” of their income is derived from using Mechanical Turk, a full 25 percent get “all” or “most” of their total income from the service. And here’s Pew’s breakdown of the kinds of people who get most of their money by working on Mechanical Turk:
Some 49% of Turkers who get the majority of their incomes from MTurk are 18 to 29 years old, compared with 38% of those the same age with other significant income sources. Around one-third (32%) of those who use the site as their primary incomes have college degrees, compared with 58% of those with college degrees who supplement other incomes. And 61% live in households earning less than $40,000 in 2015, compared with 37% who are in the same income bracket and use the site to supplement other income sources.
Mechanical Turk work doesn’t sound lucrative or glamorous, but part of the appeal is that it’s light work you can perform from your computer. Pew’s numbers show that during the week in December when they scanned listings, “The majority of tasks on the site ... (61%) were short, repetitive ‘microtasks’” that paid about 10 cents each and could be completed in minutes.
How does being a Mechanical Turker stand up against other types of gig economy work? By comparison, drivers on Uber — which requires all the costs of car ownership (insurance, depreciation, etc.) — earn a bit under $13.25 an hour on average in some major markets.
Meanwhile, global online labor outsourcing, which was a roughly $2 billion market in 2013, is estimated to grow to about $15 billion to $25 billion by 2020.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.