Tag Archives: gig economy

Few Gigs Left In The Gig Economy

My daughter recently moved to the Bay Area. She has a new job, her first out of college, but viewed the move with trepidation. Could she and her roommates afford west coast rents on their modest salaries? They worried about returning to their old bargain basement digs – unsavory but inexpensive – it got broken into twice, and one night they awoke to find a passerby smashing in their car windscreen with a brick.

They wanted safe – but could not afford it.

The hunt was on. The onset of COVID19 had driven all three home to their parents. But understandably, the itch to get on with grown up lives even in the new normal, intensified their search.

After four months of trawling through rental property websites, an Airbnb host offered the trio her charming San Francisco apartment at an incredible discount – much to their disbelief, it was well below its listing price. It appears that after the owner’s business took a nosedive in the pandemic, she was prepared to take a chance on newly minted graduates, offering them a long term rental they could just about afford.

Many gig workers like my daughter’s new Airbnb landlady took a hit when the pandemic struck. Once, they were the face of a thriving gig economy  – Airbnb reported that its women hosts earned nearly $15 billion in the last year alone.. But as the pandemic unceremoniously sank the economy, forcing businesses to shut and jobs to vanish under the threat of infection, many gig workers – Airbnb hosts, Uber drivers, dog walkers, babysitters, Task Rabbit ‘taskers’ – faced with the prospect of layoffs, reduced hours and pay, had to invent new ways to supplement incomes in order to survive.

Dr. Alexandrea Ravenelle

“Quite frankly, now is not a good time to be a gig worker, said Dr. Alexandrea Ravenelle, Professor of Sociology (UNC Chapel Hill), at an Oct 2 Ethnic Media Services briefing about the pandemic’s devastating impact on the gig economy.

Not only do gig workers find business drying up, but those who depend on app-based livelihoods risk exposure to the coronavirus.

Uber and Lyft drivers taking strangers to airports and Task Rabbit workers going into private homes to assist or run errands, are especially vulnerable, because they often work jobs “in close proximity with strangers that carries a high risk of exposure to COVID19,” warned Dr. Ravenelle, who interviewed 200 gig workers for a study. The danger of infection coupled with a huge drop in demand for their services, puts gig workers in a “lose lose situation.”

Challenges facing gig workers

Already enduring precarious circumstances, gig workers are now forced to compete for a smaller share of offerings. Even though the lockdown triggered increasing demand for food delivery apps – DoorDash, UberEats, GrubHub – and grocery shopping apps like Shipt and Instacart, which app-based workers have long relied on as dependable sources of income, the rise in demand hasn’t helped.

In fact, app-based workers now are fighting off growing competition from a surge of newly unemployed workers for food delivery jobs, even as they fight to keep the virus at bay. In Chicago, Saori Okawa, who worked as an Uber driver before the pandemic, told the Chicago Tribune she was making less money delivering food now than she did ferrying passengers in her car.

Growing numbers of unemployed workers are using what Dr. Ravenelle, calls the ‘side hustle safety net’ to keep afloat in a sinking economy. New ‘hustlers’ are flooding the gig economy, either because they do not know they are eligible to receive unemployment benefits, or, can no longer wait for funds; but many refuse to apply for what they perceive as the stigma of a government handout. Even documented and green card holders who are eligible have refused unemployment benefits, fearing it would jeopardize their legal status.

Newcomers are turning to gig jobs as “an occupation of last resort,” even though it pays less than unemployment benefits, said Dr. Ravenelle. Many want to escape being trapped at home without any work, but most unemployed workers are desperate to feed their families and pay their rent.

She revealed that this non-traditional workforce as a whole is slightly more educated than the overall workforce; the survey indicated that 36% of respondents had undergraduate degrees, while some even held PhDs and medical degrees.

Nevertheless, none of these workers will find allies in the multibillion dollar companies that hire them, especially in California (and San Francisco in particular), which has a higher concentration of workers, because that’s where many online platform companies got their start.

Prop 22 Hurts Gig Workers

In California, gig companies are trying to sidestep legislation (AB5) that reclassified gig workers as employees, to avoid paying benefits or guarantee a minimum wage to workers. App-based giants Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash spent almost $188 million to support Prop 22  – a ballot measure to reclassify app-based (rideshare) and delivery drivers as independent contractors instead of employees, and exempt themselves from compensating workers fairly. Prop 22 would deny drivers basic safety net protections like paid sick leave, workers compensation or unemployment benefits, that are crucial during this pandemic. It removes time-based wage protections, so drivers are only guaranteed $5 an hour. As 1099-based independent contractors, workers are not entitled to minimum wage, overtime, or unemployment insurance.  Nor would there be protections for health and safety, family or workers’ compensation.

Dr.Veena Dubal, UC Hastings School of Law

“Drivers in California are owed billions in dollars from back wages, said Dr. Veena Dubal, from UC Hastings  School of Law, calling Prop 22 “the most dangerous labor law that I’ve seen in in my lifetime.”

“We need the benefits. We don’t want to depend on public assistance when we’re working for multi-billion dollar corporations,” said Robert Moreno, one of over 57 million US gig workers (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), who makes a living as an Uber driver.  “The almost $200 million that Uber and Lyft spent on the campaign could have covered almost three years of benefits.”

Robert Moreno, gig worker & panellist

After the pandemic Moreno saw his wages drop nearly in half from $850 to around $350 for a weekend shift, as the ride-share giant began to shortchange drivers with fee schedules and penalties. Moreno alleged his fee share dropped from 50% to 25% of the fare even as Uber charged passengers more than the fare shown on the driver’s app. Drivers are only compensated for ride time but not for awaiting a fare, so, if the ride time is just 5 minutes, asked Moreno, “What’s the profit in that?”  Uber also penalized drivers who refused low rated passengers or end-of-shift pickups, by giving them inferior assignments.

“There is no flexibility. They own you,” said Moreno.

Layoffs, cost-cutting, decrease in demand and safety concerns are forcing gig workers to quit, even as the coronavirus threatens the economy, their lives and livelihood.

Will gig workers survive the pandemic?

In March, Airbnb reported that in the last 12 years, women’s percentage of five-star reviews had grown to 83 percent, but by July, Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s chief executive, told 1,900 employees – a quarter of Airbnb’s work force – they were out.

My daughter’s Airbnb host has renewed her lease for another 6 months.

The odds aren’t in your favor when gigs dry up in a gig economy.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Image by InstagramFOTOGRAFIN from Pixabay

 

Vulnerable Immigrants Get No Relief From COVID-19 Stimulus Package

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, signed into law last month, offers little relief to millions of vulnerable immigrants and low-wage workers, said panelists during a media briefing here April 9.

The CARES Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump March 27. It was intended to help millions of workers who have lost their jobs as shelter-in-place orders are implemented around the nation to mitigate the community spread of the novel coronavirus. The relief package also provides small businesses with the Paycheck Protection Program, allowing them to keep employees on payroll for up to eight weeks.

But millions of people — including the undocumented, and those who have no social security number — will receive no relief, said panelists at the briefing, organized by Ethnic Media Services and supported by the Blue Shield of California Foundation.

“The bills that have passed Congress so far have not provided enough economic support or health coverage for immigrants including those who have protection under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status and others,” said Kerri Talbot, director of federal advocacy at the Immigration Hub. “We’re really concerned that during this crisis people are not going to be able to access the health care that they need because they are not covered by emergency Medicaid,” she said, noting that denying aid to vulnerable immigrants puts all communities at risk.

Speaker Stacie Walton, MD-MPH (above) presenting on the 4/8 conference.

Individuals in “mixed households” — in which one or more persons are undocumented, but living with U.S. citizens, such as children or spouses — will not receive a one-time $1,200 relief check, said Talbot. “At the very least Congress needs to make sure that people who were born here should have access to cash payments and we believe undocumented individuals should as well. So many are are doing essential services,” she said. Immigration Hub is advocating for relief for undocumented people, including DACA and TPS recipients, to be included in the proposed fourth stimulus package.

Some safety nets have been beefed up, said Talbot, noting that more than $3 billion has been allocated for community health clinics, and $450 million has been allotted to food banks.

Sunita Lough, the Internal Revenue Services deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, said the one-time $1,200 stimulus package checks will be deposited into bank accounts on April 17, if the IRS has direct deposit information for the eligible recipient. Each individual with a social security number, who cannot be claimed as a dependent on anyone else’s tax return, is eligible for a stimulus check, she said.

Those who have not provided direct deposit information to the IRS will get a paper check instead, which will take much longer, said Lough. She advised taxpayers to go online to https://whereismyeconomicimpactpayment to fill in direct deposit information. The website, which goes live on April 17, will also allow users to track their stimulus checks and when they will receive them.

Lough cautioned against the many imposter scams that have emerged in the wake of the pandemic. “Do not give your private information to anyone who says I can get your check for you,” she stated.

If an individual owes back taxes, the IRS will not take out money from the stimulus check, clarified Lough.

Sebastian Sanchez, staff attorney of the employment rights project at the law firm Bet Tzedek, told reporters at the briefing that “gig workers” — contract workers, who now make up one-third of employees in several states — are eligible for unemployment benefits under the CARES Act. Normally, gig workers would not be eligible, because they had not left or been laid off by an employer, a mandate for unemployment benefits. Sanchez said that though they are eligible, there will be some delays, as states attempt to restructure their programs to meet new federal guidelines. The stimulus package also provides an additional benefit of $600 per week to unemployed workers, but this too has not yet been implemented, said Sanchez, adding that laid-off workers and employees furloughed without pay can expect to see those additional benefits by the week beginning April 13.

California workers can claim up to 38 weeks of unemployment through the state’s Employment Development Department.

State disability insurance may be available to undocumented workers, if they have been paying into the system by deductions on their paychecks, said Sanchez. Undocumented workers with fake social security numbers should not perjure themselves to get benefits, he said, advising instead that they file paper forms and leave that information blank to later clarify with the EDD.

Medical experts at the briefing discussed the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on African American and Latino communities. Pediatrician Stacie Walton said: “When COVID-19 came on the scene, I knew we were going to have disproportionate numbers of African Americans affected; they are already experiencing an epidemic of deaths from other diseases.”

Walton said that many social determinants of health, including an unconscious bias by health workers, make African Americans more vulnerable.

Walton’s statements were borne out by University of California physician Tung Nguyen. “Stark and alarming disparities are emerging in places are reporting covid-19 data by race,” he said. In Chicago 52% of the covid-19 cases are among black residents who make up only 30 percent of the City’s population.

Only 14% of Michigan’s population is black but 33% of the COVID-19 cases are African Americans, said Nguyen. In Louisiana, 70% of deaths statewide are among black residents, though they only make up 32 % of the state’s population, said Nguyen, noting that similar disparities are coming out of North Carolina, Washington DC and Milwaukee.

He advocated for all public health departments to track COVID-19 information by race and ethnicity and urged all readers of ethnic media to write their members of Congress to also such data. Nguyen also sternly advocated for a nationwide shelter-in-place order. “It is criminal that some governors are not doing this. They are killing people. It is bad leadership.”

Sunita Sohrabji is a Contributor at Ethnic Media Services

Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash