The Important Role of the Gig Economy Worker in Times of Crisis

Photo Credit: Kai Pilger, Unsplash

In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 55 million Americans were gig economy workers, making up 34% of the working population. At that time, it was expected for the number to rise to 43%, but due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the gig economy is changing.

Currently, about 95% of Americans are on some form of lockdown. That has dramatically increased the need of delivery services for food, groceries, and even prescription medications.

Additionally, millions of Americans have found themselves out of a job. Over 10 million people filed for unemployment benefits in March.

There are certain industries that are seeing a lot of growth right now, and many of them are reflections of the gig economy. As a country (and globally), we’re starting to see the importance of the gig economy worker. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to have our groceries or meals delivered, nor would we be able to grab an Uber if our car stopped working.

Simply put, the gig economy workers are keeping this country running right now. Even if you’re not working now or you’re working from home and trying to get through these uncertain times like everyone else, it’s important to protect the gig economy workers and rally behind them while we get through this crisis together.

So, how can you do that?

What Is the Gig Economy?

The gig economy is made up of people who seek out temporary employment by getting hired for “gigs.” Some gig economy workers are called “freelancers.” Others are called “independent contractors.” Whatever title they may have, gig economy workers don’t seek out long-term employment. Instead, they work short-term jobs, get paid for each one, and move on to the next.

Gigs are usually short-lived and can be sporadic. For example, a freelance writer might have ten projects for one week and only one or two the next. A food delivery driver might have 20 deliveries one night and only five the next. That can make work unpredictable, which means a gig economy worker isn’t always guaranteed a set income.

The upside of freelancing or working in the gig economy is that workers don’t have to answer to an employer or work set hours. They can essentially set their own schedules and work when they want. Millennials make up the largest group of gig economy workers at 24%, but that could change, thanks to the unemployment rate skyrocketing due to the current pandemic.

How Gig Economy Workers Make a Difference

Gig economy workers make a difference every day by making our lives easier, but throughout this COVID-19 pandemic, more people have started to see just how crucial gig workers are.

Uber and Lyft, two of the most popular ride-sharing companies, have both stepped up to help the healthcare industry. Some of the most common issues facing our healthcare workers right now include the following:

  • Under-staffing
  • A lack of supplies
  • Not enough rooms/beds
  • Not enough ventilators
  • Workers under constant exposure

While Uber and Lyft can’t help with all of those issues, they have both contributed in different ways. Uber, for example, is providing 10 million free rides for healthcare workers on the front lines. They’re also providing free meals to first responders and healthcare workers via Uber Eats, and shipping critical goods to healthcare facilities at zero profit pricing.

Lyft is protecting people at home who might be immuno-compromised or elderly by adding the delivery of food and medical supplies to their delivery services. Many people who can’t leave their homes to even go to the store rely on these services to get the supplies they need including fast food, toiletries, and household items.

How to Support the Gig Economy

On average, twice as many gig economy workers in the U.S. earn less than $30,000 a year when compared to other Americans. The hourly wage of an Uber driver is 90% less than what a typical worker in the U.S. earns. About 54% of Google’s workforce is made up of contractors who, until 2019, didn’t receive the California minimum wage, workers’ compensation, or other benefits. Now that you know just how crucial these workers truly are, these statistics should be shocking.

So, what can you do to support the gig economy? Use it! Even if you’re currently out of work or stuck working from home, support people who are trying to make their living without working underneath someone. If you want to keep the gig economy running all the time, not just in times of need, support workers:

  • Use ride-share apps
  • Utilize food delivery services
  • Hire freelancers for graphic design, writing, and editing.
  • Learn more about governmental policies that may impact gig economy workers

The gig economy will continue to grow. In the wake of this pandemic, it may even start to grow at a faster rate, saving the American worker. With that in mind, everyone needs to do their part to make sure gig economy workers are taken care of so we can all continue to rely on them when we need them most.

Beau Peters is a freelance writer based out of Portland, OR. He has a particular interest in covering workers' rights, social justice, and workplace issues and solutions. Read other articles by Beau.