My money says that you know at least one person who is active in the gig economy. It may be your roommate, your best friend’s second cousin’s wife, or hell, maybe it’s you, driving for Uber on the weekends. It’s a common occurrence these days, considering the federal minimum wage hasn’t budged from $7.25 an hour since 2009. In addition, the cost of living has inflated so much that our minimum wage is now literally worth less than it was 50 years ago. It’s not uncommon for anyone in this day and age to try and pick up a few side jobs. And they’re readily available.
Nowadays, there’s very little you can’t do as a “side job.” From the ever-popular Uber and Lyft, where you can get paid to drive drunk college kids home from the bar and hope they don’t puke in your car, to AirBnB, where you can rent your extra room (or if you’re lucky enough to have one, your extra house) to a vacationing family, or a group of college frat boys on spring break – again in hopes that they don’t puke all over your house. There’s a multitude of survey sites to help you land a little side cash, and even a website called Fiverr, where you can literally offer just about any service imaginable for a respectable five whoppin’ bucks. Not to mention, you can do just about anything (or try to anyway) as a freelancer. All you gotta do is hit up Craigslist.
It’s also becoming increasingly popular for folks to try and carve out a long-term career within the gig economy, and it’s understandable. At first glance, it’s got a lot to offer: you can schedule your own hours, no working for “the man,” it’s typically fairly quick cash, and it can potentially offer a lot of experiences that a “regular” job can’t. It’s a great opportunity to carve your own path, so to speak, in this dog-eat-dog world we live in. But let me be the first to tell you, the gig economy isn’t always what it seems.
Under all the shimmer and shine, and wonderful, life-altering promises that the gig economy has to offer, there is an ugly underbelly. The gig economy, as a whole, has found a perfectly legal way to undercut the working man, and they’re exploiting the hell out of it.
First and foremost, the gig economy doesn’t owe you shit. And I mean that. They don’t owe you benefits, or a steady paycheck, or even a guarantee of at least minimum wage pay. That means, in the short of it, the gig economy gets your time and hard work, without having to give you much of anything over a measly pay rate for providing their services.
Take Uber for example – Uber is currently the most valuable start up in the U.S, by a mile, with a current valuation of around $68 billion, beating out AirBnB, the second most valuable U.S. start up, whose valuation is currently weighing in at around $31 billion. So, it’s fairly obvious that both of these companies are doing quite well. But, nevertheless, they still fail to offer their “employees” much over a peddler’s wage. They offer no opportunity for full-time work, pay or benefits, and very little room for moving up in the company.
Companies like these also get to dump a whole, big bunch of their tax issues on your head. Anytime you take a gig with a company like Uber, you’re considered self-employed. Meaning they’re not holding out a dime in taxes. That seems all great and wonderful at first, right? More money in your pocket. For now, anyway. But at the end of the year, you’re left responsible for all of it. Which means it’s a damn good possibility you’ll be left responsible with a big ole bill to the IRS as well. Now that’s not to say that Uber and companies of the like don’t pay their fair share in taxes. I’m no businesswoman, but I can only imagine what their accountants have to go through. But that is to say, they’re certainly not going to be doing you any favors with yours any time soon.
But one of my least favorite aspect of the gig economy comes down to this – your job relies on opinions. Take Uber again. (I’m really picking on them today. Sorry Uber!) The money you make, and even whether you get to keep your gig or not, relies heavily on the ratings that your riders give you. Same goes for AirBnB. If your clients give you a low rating, your pay goes down, and you’re potentially up for termination.
Uber’s rating system is so pertinent to the drivers, that they can potentially be punished for as little as a 4-star rating. Now we all get that ratings are important. If your Uber driver is a jackass or your AirBnB host was a total jerk, you should have every right to air your grievances and let the company know what they’ve done wrong. But it can really put employees in a bad situation. People have a tendency to be petty, and rate their driver low as hell because they didn’t like the music in their car. It puts your gig on a teetering pedestal that’s hard to live up to.
When all of the above gets added up together, it makes for a heady recipe for other businesses to follow. Bigger companies are now starting to lean towards the habits of the gig economy, because they’re seeing how much they can get away with. Why should they have to put you on the payroll, offer benefits, and withhold taxes, when they could just merge into the gig economy and not be responsible for much of anything when it comes to their employees?
Now before you jump my ass like a spider monkey, yes, I do know and understand that, as a freelance writer, I am considered a part of the gig economy. But I made sure I did my research. The gig economy isn’t always a horrible, terrible thing. It can be a great way to pad your income, and if you’re lucky enough, it can lead to a great career. But you have to make sure you keep your common sense about you. Businessnewsdaily.com has a few tips for those looking to dip their toes in the gig economy. Such as finding a company that offers full-time conversion, leaning towards smaller companies, and making sure that you always aim to be treated as a respected and valued employee.
The gig economy can be a useful tool, but never forget that it’s a two-headed monster in the end. So, if you need some extra cash, or you’re looking to branch out beyond the 9-5, make sure you do your research, have a clear and concise game plan, and keep your self-respect. Because I promise, the gig economy doesn’t have a lot of respect for you.
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Andrea is a freelance writer based out of Kentucky. She is the mother to a 3 year old little girl and step-mother to a 6 year old boy. She’s been married to her husband and best friend for 5 years. She enjoys fishing, camping, hiking and the occasional glass of wine by a bonfire.