Thursday, March 19, 2020

It Wouldn’t Have Taken Much To Disrupt a Gig Economy—But Much is What We Have

From the New York Times:

The coronavirus pandemic is exposing the fragile situations of gig economy workers — the Uber and Lyft drivers, food-delivery couriers and TaskRabbit furniture builders who are behind the convenience-as-a-service apps that are now part of everyday life. Classified as freelancers and not full-time employees, these workers have few protections like guaranteed wages, sick pay and health care, which are benefits that are critical in a crisis.

While gig economy companies like Uber and DoorDash have promoted themselves as providing flexible work that can be lifelines to workers during economic downturns, interviews with 20 ride-hailing drivers and food delivery couriers in Europe and the United States over the past week showed that the services have been anything but that.

Instead, as the fallout from the coronavirus spreads, gig workers’ earnings have plummeted and many have become disgruntled about their lack of health care. Many others are also feeling economic pain from the outbreak — layoffs have hit workers in retailing, airlines, hotels, restaurants and gyms — but even as public health agencies have recommended social isolation to insulate people from the virus, gig workers must continue interacting with others to pay their bills.

And buried in another Times article about qualifying for unemployment benefits:

Gig workers are also unlikely to qualify because they’re largely considered self-employed. But certain self-employed people may end up being eligible for a refundable tax credit, depending on what lawmakers in Washington decide to do.

I think we’re about to get a crash course on just how big the Gig economy is and on some deeper implications of a no-employee world. I hope that solutions forged in the current disaster capitalism won't permanently sacrifice employee status for millions as the quid pro quo for affording critical, but in the end, temporary benefits.  

Michael C. Duff

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