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Gig work and workers in the Pandemic

From my ten years of writing about the gig economy, and over thirty years of being part of it in some form or another, I know that being a contingent worker can be difficult in the best of times. So what happens when the economy as we know it shuts down because of a global pandemic?

Well, lots of stuff, as you might imagine. I’m currently working on survey of gig workers that I expect to go out in the next few weeks or so, but thanks to some other folks doing great work in this area, I do have some key takeaways at this point:

Key takeaways

From UCLA Labor Center/SEIU​, June / July 2020

  • COVID-19 dramatically diminished gig workers’ income & increased the precarity of their schedules​
    • Half had to stop working; 70% had reduced hours​
  • Working during COVID-19 poses health risks for gig workers ​
    • Lack of PPE; lack of company support​
  • Gig workers needed to access workplace benefits​
    • 30% had no insurance; most who did had gov’t plans​
  • Gig workers experienced financial, housing, and food insecurity​
    • 33-39% were food insecure or close to it​

From the Harris/AP-NORC Poll, July 16-20, 2020​

  • Demand for food & grocery delivery was steady or slightly up​
  • Demand for ride-hailing dropped from 42% to 16%​
    • 63% of ride-hail users stopped during COVID-19​
  • 35% favor regulations to increase wages & benefits for ride-hail & delivery service drivers
    • Only 14% opposed them, with most indifferent​
    • Support falls to 22% when those regulations mean a 25% cost increase for users​, but rises a bit if the cost is 5%

From the AppJobs/Future of Work Institute Poll, March 17-20, 2020

Click to enlarge
  • Winners​
    • Survey takers​
    • Delivery​
    • Freelance​
  • Losers​
    • Drivers*​
    • Home services​
    • Personal services
Click to enlarge

More…

  • Lost jobs​
  • Less work​
  • Safety concerns​
  • 70% unsatisfied with support​ from employers

From the OECD/AppJobs Institute​, June 2020

Other issues reported​

  • Need for financial support, hazard pay, days off, help with essential expenses, access to credit, & charity/emergency funds​
  • Benefits such as sick leave, furlough & other government assistance​
  • Safer work environments​
  • More compassion from platforms, including:​
    • Care for worker wellbeing, esp. sick workers​
    • Moratorium on dismissals​
    • Better communication, esp. regarding COVID risks​
    • General respect​

And some preliminary policy recommendations

So how do we begin to address the precariousness faced by so many gig workers, especially those in the platform economy? Here are some idea I’ve been kicking around:

  • Worker-owned platforms​
  • Make the PUA permanent for freelance & platform workers​
    • The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, originally part of the CARES act from March 2020, extended unemployment benefits to self-employed and freelance workers impacted by the pandemic. The PUA has been extended under the American Rescue Plan (ARP) through early September, 2021, but now that we know both how to do it and how well it worked, we should make it permanent for the over eight million recipients and beyond.
  • Extend federal protections to gig work, including but not limited to:​
    • OSHA protections​
    • Overtime pay​
    • Collective bargaining rights​
    • Family care leave​
    • Other portable benefits​
  • Universal basic income (UBI)​
    • Now that the results of the Stockton, CA experiment are starting to come in, as well as several others in the US and abroad, we know that giving workers an economic floor both helps keep them afloat and, even more importantly, helps them get ahead.

I’m looking forward to reporting more soon. These and other findings have been presented at the 2020 Northeastern Conference on Public Administration, the 2021 American Society for Public Administration Conference, and the Pace University Future of Work Conference.


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