Gig Workers and Part-Time Employees Share Recent Experiences

As we mentioned in our previous post, COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on gig work and side jobs in the US. While a side job is often seen as a way to make extra money, 33% of people work their second job just to cover their living expenses. The current crisis has only made the need for additional income greater, and yet in many cases, gig work has dried up.

We recently talked with a number of people who work a secondary job to see how they’ve been affected the past few months. While almost everyone was impacted in one way or another, it wasn’t entirely negative.

No Events, No Work​

Work based around special events is well-suited for people looking to find extra work. The pay can be good, and the atmosphere can be fun and exciting, but the actual workload tends to be inconsistent. With all major (and most minor) events cancelled for the foreseeable future, the work is now non-existent.

One person we spoke with usually keeps busy working tables and booths at promotional events and celebrations throughout the year. Summer is usually his busiest time, but at this point, the last event he worked was in early March.

“I’m lucky in that I’ve been able to do my full-time job from home,” said Chris, “And I don’t rely on the income from my side gig for anything other than fun money.”

Others see gig work as a way to pursue a passion that might either burn them out or fail to sustain them if they pursued it fulltime. About a year ago, Nichole launched a photography business mostly focused on weddings, engagements, and family photos. Though she had no intentions of making it her fulltime job, work was plentiful, and opportunities were growing.

That is, until quarantine hit.

What was to be her busiest season became a blank calendar as weddings were cancelled and engagement shoots were pushed back. To make things worse, she had recently invested in better equipment. While financial assistance and unemployment were made available for independent workers, Nichole didn’t qualify due to having a full-time job.

Still, her loss in income has been significant. More than the money, however, she misses being able to do her hobby. If anything, it reminded her why she doesn’t do photography fulltime.

“The biggest lesson I learned was that life is unpredictable, and this reassured me that I couldn’t do this full time ever because it is so unstable,” she says.

Recently, she’s been adapting. She created a safety plan and focused on newborn photos. She maintains 6 feet at all times, guiding the parent through wrapping their baby and placing them for the pictures. She also ensures everything is washed after every shoot, and she only does a shoot every 24 hours. It may not be quite what she had before, but it’s a start.

Of course, photographers aren’t the only ones impacted by a lack of weddings.

“I’m self-employed as a hairstylist for weddings,” said Kristy. “Normally by now, I would have had at least 10-12 weddings. I have done 1, and that’s only because Chicago can now have gatherings up to 50 people.”

Kristy was able to get a $1000 grant from EIDL, which made up for some of the lost work. However, she didn’t qualify for ongoing unemployment.

Apps and Platforms Become Flooded​

These days, gig work and side hustles are often associated with apps and platform-based services like Uber, Doordash, Fiver, and more. While the need for many of these services, especially delivery-based, has risen since quarantine started, competition has become increasingly fierce as wages have gone down.

Apps and platforms have been flooded by new workers since March. Places like Upwork and Flexjobs have seen their traffic increase by 50% or more. While this might be good for the companies themselves, it has made it much more difficult for their workers to pick up gigs. Even when work is found, the pay has been noticeably lower than it was before COVID. Kevin, who drives for Amazon Flex on the side, has seen rates drop over $10 per hour.

Other app users face a similar situation.    

“I haven’t even bothered trying,” said one former Uber/Lyft driver. “I don’t think there’s a lot of need, and whatever opportunities there are, it’s not worth the potential exposure.”

Hope in Digital

While the majority of people we talked to were suffering from a loss of work and income, there were some exceptions, particularly in work-from-home situations. In fact, one person found themselves with too much opportunity. Though Kristy had lost her hairstyling gigs, she had another means of income.

“I am also a contractor for a marketing company,” said Kristy. “I create content for social media and manage eblasts for clients, and that work has not slowed down at all. If anything, it’s picked up.”

The trouble is, with kids at home due to school/daycare closures and summer events being cancelled, Kristy only has so much availability to work from her house. This has been a challenge for many parents during quarantine who have found themselves juggling work and taking care of their children at all hours of the day.

“With the nature of the marketing job,” said Kristy, “There are some things that clients are used to me being able to do last minute or with very little notice, and with all kids here all the time, and not having any outlet for all their energy (parks were even closed here up until a month ago), I absolutely cannot work the same as I could before.”

For one parent we talked to, however, quarantine and COVID-19 actually created the perfect situation for their side hustle to thrive.

In addition to his full-time job which can be performed remotely, Tyler offers online courses for K-12 teachers in his spare time. These provide credits which teachers need to renew their teaching license. With schools closed and all in-person courses cancelled, Tyler saw participation explode. Meanwhile, his wife is a teacher, and so, she was available to watch their kids at home while he worked.

Ultimately, he was able to put away enough money this year so that his wife could become a stay at home mom. Now, he’s looking into how he can further grow his side business and potentially turn it into his full-time job.

An Uncertain Future

At this point, it’s hard to say what will happen next. Some people are waiting and hoping things return to some sort of “normal” soon, while others are trying to adapt and find new opportunities. The current situation certainly highlights longstanding issues in the gig-economy.

But overall, the people we spoke to were optimistic about the future. Change is certainly in the air. The best we can do is take things one day at a time.

As the Bible says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

The New Torrch is Coming...

We’re currently building the next generation of Torrch. One of the key features will be the ability for service providers and gig workers to find paid work opportunities within their church or local community. We believe this will be a great benefit for people relying on secondary income, especially in times like these.

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