The Changing Gig Economy
October 23, 2020
Those chaotic early weeks of March found me glued to the endless barrage of COVID coverage. As the world shut down around me, it was being documented in real-time: on my TV, on every app on my phone, and in every promotional email (who knew a pandemic could produce so much spam?). The air was tense with anxiety and vulnerability—a reality I know has been shared by many throughout these uncertain times. In the looming presence of this, financial security felt more important and urgent than ever.
Yet my primary source of income was through an already unstable and shifting field—that of the gig economy. Gig workers are essentially independent contractors hired by on-demand companies to perform anything from food delivery to pet sitting to creating online content. The relationship between these gig workers and the companies they are hired by is one that operates all online.
For the past two years I had slowly grown my reach in a variety of company platforms, including Quora and Rover. I was drawn to the flexibility gig work offered; I could make my own schedule and take the clients I wanted, all without having to leave my house. However, as the pandemic hit, my trusted client base I had spent years building up slowly started to cancel appointments, and I was left with little, if any, support from these companies I was working for.
While gig work is not a new concept, gig work via instant service apps have become part of our new normal. Uber and Lyft are now synonymous with “taking a cab” and food delivery apps such as GrubHub and DoorDash or grocery shopping apps like Instacart have seen a huge surge in the past few months.
As the pandemic surged on and some of the initial panic subsided, my clients started to return. Yet I found myself making the same amount while taking a huge risk to my own health, and I know many of my gig “co-workers” in the area found themselves in the same situation.
The gig economy is designed to fluctuate, and some of that is certainly to the benefit of the workers that make their living with it.
Photo courtesy of Chelsea Cooper
The gig economy is diverse, with offerings such as Rover: a dog-walking service. Due to the pandemic, gig workers now experience a riskier work environment, Chelsea Cooper explains.
It has given me an outlet to explore my various interests without any formal contracts or timelines. Currently, I hold Rover’s top-rated dog sitter designation in Traverse City, a job that has gifted me with an entirely new posse of canine pals.
Yet, in the midst of all of this, is a sinking realization that the gig economy workforce is not protected. There is no union for the gig economy, and as such, many workers are taken advantage of. The rise of these services is directly related to the risk that a simple grocery store run poses now—yet who shoulders the true cost? It is your Uber driver, your Instacart shopper, your DoorDash deliverer, possibly exposing themselves to the virus so that you don’t have to.
The past few months have shown us that the gig economy is resilient and possibly more important than we had originally thought. However, with this new perspective, we must seriously consider how we compensate and protect gig workers. Until that happens on a large scale, remember to tip and thank all the gig workers in your life.