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Gig jobs on the rise, workers hope for benefits

Posted: 9:38 AM, Jul 01, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-01 10:38:07-04
Gig jobs on the rise, workers hope for benefits

The American workforce isn't what it used to be.

"I saw an app that said 'dog sitting,' and I thought I could do that in my spare time," says gig worker Lawrence Snell. "It turned out that now I have up to six or eight dogs a day."

For 40 hours a week, Snell takes care of other people's dogs through the app Rover.

It's a temp job like Lyft, Uber, DoorDash, Postmates and others.

It's the kind of work driving--what experts are now calling --"the gig economy". However, the concept isn't completely new.

Americans have always worked odd jobs, but the number of people participating in them has gone up, due in part to advanced technology and wages not increasing.

For most people, jobs like app-based deliveries or ride-sharing have been a little extra income on the side. But for a growing number of others, it's work that pays the bills without the commitment that comes with a traditional 9-to-5.

"Going to work, clocking in, and working for the man… if I can do a gig where I can spend more time with my family and more time renovating my house and doing the things that I love, then yeah, that's more beneficial to me," Snell said says.

Certain gig workers don't just stick to one job.

Behailu Fitzjames spends his days working as many gigs as he can, turning everyday into a different adventure. Grubhub, Postmates, Uber Eats and Lyft are the main ones he’s a part of.

"Even some time I have left, I'll go on Craigslist gigs and look up who needs help, what's something new I could do," Fitzjames says.

For Behailu it's been a steady source of income giving him freedom and flexibility to control his own schedule.

"If you're driving around you can make $100 an hour with Lyft and Uber," Fitzjames says. "It's also varying, so that's kind of cool versus being at a fixed income."

But it comes without the work protections many of us are used to having.

The Trump Administration's labor department recently said it considers gig workers to be independent contractors.

Not only are these workers allowed to control their hours, but they can also work for competing companies. However, the term "independent contractor" leaves them ineligible for things like overtime pay, workers compensation, and benefits. Most gig workers agree they'd like to see that change.

"I think it should be offered, and I think it should be offered at a fair rate," Snell says. "I don't see why you should be punished for doing gig work."

But some, like Behailu, are concerned that money for benefits would come out of their paycheck.

"Being a contractor means you get to set everything up for yourself," Fitzjames says. "Having them offer insurance and all the benefits, I suppose, you wouldn't be making as much money, because more money would be trying to fund that."

We partnered with Newsy and the polling firm Ipsos to further understand what people really think. We found most Americans believe gig workers should be afforded the same labor protections as full-time employees. Support for that among gig workers themselves is even higher.

That could be because more people are working gigs full-time. The most recent data from the Fed shows that 18 percent of American gig workers rely on their gigs for their primary source of income.

"Whether it's unemployment insurance, whether it's minimum wage protections, whether it's the ability to earn overtime - there's been a series of benefits and protections that built up over the course of the 21st century that you only can access if you're an employee," Al Fitzpayne, with Future of Work Initiative, explains. "And so, that is why the employee distinction is so significant relative to that of an independent contractor is a very important consideration."

Gig workers are fully responsible for their own healthcare, retirement, and sick time, which can be a struggle, considering the money they're making may not be as much as some people think.

For example, Uber once claimed its drivers in major U.S. cities were making between $70,000 to $90,000 a year. But recent data shows average hourly wages for ride-share drivers are much lower, and companies are taking a bigger cut.

"All these companies are making lots of money, and it's time to spread that money around. I think they've got the money to do it, and I think they will do it eventually," Snell says.

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If you'd like to reach out to the journalist for this story, email elizabeth.ruiz@scripps.com