Workers Turn To Nontraditional Jobs To Supplement Incomes
Many workers today have turned to companies offering flexible schedules and independence for extra income.
This “gig economy” — driven by such businesses as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Etsy, Instacart, Upwork and more — involves workers engaging in “income-earning activities outside of traditional, long-term employer-employee relationships,” according to the Gig Economy Data Hub, a collaboration between Cornell University’s ILR School and the Aspen Institute’s nonpartisan Future of Work Initiative.
Surveys show that between 25 and 30 percent of workers nationwide had, in the previous month, done independent work for supplementary or primary income, according to the data hub. A recent Contingent Worker Supplement done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, meanwhile, showed that alternative jobs — such as freelance, on-call, contracted and temp agency positions — were the main job for 10.1 percent of workers.
When he’s not sailing the world as a commercial mariner, Lakeville resident and Scranton landlord Mike Weiss heads to the Electric City to pick up a few shifts as an Uber driver.
“When I’m back on shore, I’m not earning any money, so this is a way for me to have a flexible part-time job,” he said.
The global ride-sharing company lets travelers find and book rides through its app, which connects them to a driver. Weiss joined in December 2017, and said Friday and Saturday nights tend to be the best time to take on passengers.
“I’ll try to do a 12-hour shift from about 8 p.m. to 8 in the morning, because I find those to be pretty consistent as far as getting rides,” Weiss said. “I’ve tried it on weekdays during rush-hour times. Outside of rush hour ... I found that I myself haven’t had much luck in getting a steady stream of rides. It’s not worth my time.”
Weiss also has driven for Lyft, another ride-sharing company. Out of the hundreds of rides he’s given — including 428 in 2018, his first full year — his average fare comes out to $8.50, which includes an optional in-app tip and cash tips.
“Most people don’t tip, because when the apps were created, it was kind of sold as, like, you don’t have to tip, and everyone remembers that,” Weiss said. “It’s hard.”
The “meter” starts running when a rider gets in the car, Weiss said, so in an area like Scranton, where “there’s no single concentration point of people that need rides,” he might have to drive 10 or 15 minutes just to pick up someone. Then, the passenger might only be in his car for a few minutes before he drops them off and heads back to where he started.
Many of the people he picks up are bar hoppers, and others have said they grabbed a ride because of a past DUI charge. “A very significant portion” of his clients are grocery shoppers, he said.
“It’s normal for me to be sitting outside Levels (a downtown Scranton bar) at 1 in the morning waiting for someone to ping me, and then I’ll get a hit for someone in Scranton to take them to the Walmart in Taylor,” Weiss said.
Other shoppers use Instacart to get their groceries. Through Instacart, workers pick up and deliver groceries and other essentials. The service arrived in the Scranton area in September 2017, and locally partners with retailers including ALDI, CVS, Price Chopper, Sam’s Club and Wegmans.
For Moscow resident David Martin, renting an apartment through property-sharing company Airbnb, on top of owning Dave’s Market in the borough, helped financially, and he hopes to add other properties to his Airbnb portfolio.
“I don’t look for anything to be the home run, but I look at every source of income as playing a part,” he said. “I would rather have five businesses and have five streams of income rather than have one stream of income.”
Airbnb has more than 5 million listings in 81,000 cities worldwide, according to the company. Martin opened the apartment in the same building as his market about a year ago after renovating the space so it looks “like someone was living here and it’s like you’re staying in their place.” Martin believes those personal touches attract people to Airbnb sites over hotels. He always has the lights on and his Netflix account running when guests arrive.
“It’s not like a generic, cookie-cutter (hotel). ... I think it connects people to where they’re staying more,” Martin said. “They don’t feel like they’re staying away from home.”
Renting through Airbnb brings in people who might not have normally stopped or stayed in Moscow, he said, and that in turn generates revenue for other local businesses, such as gas stations and convenience stores.
People have come from all over, Martin said, noting that many come from New York and New Jersey, attracted to local spots such as Big Bass Lake and Eagle Lake.
“It’s very high-traffic for us, especially for travel in the summertime,” Martin said.
For Weiss, if he gets 20 rides on a given night, he considers that pretty good.
“I think it’s a good thing. I think it will last,” he said. “I don’t know how long any individual person will last driving. ... I do think the services are very in-demand. I think they are very good and generally cheaper than taxis, and as such, people will want to use them when they’re going out.”
While Weiss does not consider driving a great job, he called it “very flexible.” But he would not recommend that anyone sign up to drive unless they have a good business sense, “because you are essentially kind of like a freelancer.”
“It’s really up to you to manage your expenses, because Uber or Lyft, they don’t pay for your vehicle,” Weiss said. “They don’t pay for maintenance. They don’t pay for the fuel, insurance, any of that. You’re really only getting paid for having people in your car.”
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