Employers in the U.S. are looking to fill a near-record 11 million hourly and salaried jobs, yet many workers are sticking with gig work.
Nearly one-third of gig workers (31%) — which includes people who drive for Uber
deliver food for Doordash
or rent their home via Airbnb
— said that gig work has been their main job over the past year. The remaining share considers gig work a side job.
That’s according to a nationally-representative survey of more than 1,300 U.S. adults who earned money from gig work during August 2020 to August 2021 published this week by Pew Research Center.
Whether or not they consider it a main job or a side job, the majority of gig workers over the past year worked gigs less than 10 hours a week. Still, 36% said that in the past year, they clocked 10 to 30 hours (29% of those surveyed) or more than 30 hours (8%) doing these jobs, including waiting for assignments, in a typical week.
Gig workers had federal support during the COVID-19 public-health crisis: During the early days of the pandemic, gig workers, who normally wouldn’t qualify for unemployment, were able to collect them through a special pandemic stimulus program. (That ended in early September, but some states terminated these benefits months before then to encourage more workers to apply to jobs.)
Cuts both ways
Using gig work as a main source of income cuts both ways. On the one hand, gig workers may value the flexibility it provides. But on the other hand, they could be missing out on potentially higher-paying jobs.
Many employers currently are in a bidding war against one another for new talent, where the “prize” goes to the employer willing to offer not only higher wages, but also better working conditions and benefits.
Since the depths of the pandemic, there’s been a steady climb in the number of job postings across all wages levels on Indeed. But in recent months, job postings that pay below $15 an hour have slowed compared to ones that pay more. That may suggest that — at least some — workers can afford to be more choosy.
Locked into gig work
“While proponents praise the gig economy for its flexibility and fueling a sense of entrepreneurship, others have been openly critical about the lack of benefits and job security that can be associated with these jobs,” Pew said.
“This struggle has played out across the country with advocates, lawmakers and gig companies debating the legal status of gig workers. Many of these discussions have centered around one particular type of gig job: ride hailing.”
Pew’s findings were consistent with prior research suggesting that it’s hard to give up gig work once people have made investments in their side hustle. It could be an investment in professional relationships that are difficult to give up, or something as simple as a vehicle for Uber or Lyft drivers.
“Drivers are invested in cars they bought on credit or leased long-term,” according to Michael Reich, an economist and co-chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UC Berkeley. “These drivers are locked into working in the industry, even if better opportunities arise elsewhere,” Reich told MarketWatch.
That said, with regular gas costing more than $3 a gallon on average, or $1 more per gallon compared to last year according to data from AAA, more Uber and Lyft drivers may be looking for different work as a result, Reich added.
But Alix Anfang, an Uber spokesperson, said that “there are now more drivers on Uber in the U.S. than at any point during the pandemic, which has meaningfully improved pricing and reliability for riders.” A Lyft spokesman said the platform “added thousands of drivers” as vaccines were rolled out. These drivers are “earning significantly more than they were pre-pandemic.”