How Can We Take Control of the Gig Economy?

Do you have a side hustle? About 45% of our readers who responded to our money diary survey said they do. And according to this CNN report  more than 44 million Americans have a side gig. 

I’m not surprised. At one time, I had four side hustles going in addition to my regular job. I worked in a yoga studio, I wrote freelance articles, I walked dogs using the Wag app and I sold clothes online. 

Yes, these jobs helped me to cut back on life expenses and pad my bank account a little bit, but they were never that glamorous “hustle-filled” life advertised by companies like Fiverr.

I think we all know how to get a side job going. You can sign up for Lyft or AirBnB or Rover or some other app that facilitates jobs for you. You can also offer freelance work like design or writing for existing companies. Selling stuff on eBay is another route, as is selling services online like coaching or nutrition counseling. 

What I don’t think we talk about enough, though, are some of the major structural problems with our side hustle-focused culture. 

First and foremost, that so many Americans feel the need to take on a side job signifies that our pay structure has a serious problem. Our minimum wage on a federal level is $7.25 per hour, and it rarely gets raised. 

This is far too little to live on, so many of us take on a side job on the side. The problem is, though, that for companies like Uber or Lyft or Wag or Rover or AirBnB, we’re contract workers. Translation: we have far fewer rights than do workers at traditional establishments. 

Sure, we get flexibility, but we lose any access to benefits. We also take on a ton of risk. If we get into a car accident on the job as an Uber worker, the responsibility is ours. What’s worse, if that car needs to go to the shop for a few days, we don’t make any money during that time. 

I often wonder what would happen if a modern day version of The Jungle was written about the gig economy. A little background: The Jungle, published in 1906, detailed the struggles of workers in slaughterhouses, who were paid little and had fewer workplace rights. The novel revolutionized the workplace in America, forcing companies to make laws about who can work, how much they work for and how long they work. 

I believe workers in America need something like this book about the gig economy. Large corporations, with literally billions of dollars in their pockets, take advantage of struggling workers who just need a few extra bucks to make rent. 

I think that raising the minimum wage across the board will help aid in these struggles. Making sure people get paid enough money to make rent will ensure that those who actually use the gig economy want to be using it. 

Do you have ideas? How can we advocate for a more fair economy for all, while allowing those who want to pursue passion projects as side jobs can? 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #14