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Is the gig economy back? Number of jobs – and workers – at Upwork surges

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As of the date this article was published, 30 million people in the United States have filed for unemployment insurance for the first time. This means that millions of people are not only looking for new jobs, but they’re also looking for a little side work to make ends meet.

It was surprising, then, when we observed a massive purge of user accounts at gig-economy marketplace Upwork ($NASDAQ:UPWK). As we reported a month ago, Upwork seemingly purged nearly 2-million accounts from its network as it looked to transform the gig marketplace into one with higher-paying jobs for fewer people.

But since then, the marketplace has recovered.

On April 13, the number of jobs on Upwork hit a low of 77,500. Since then, however, roughly 10,000 new gigs have been added, bringing the new total of available jobs on Upwork to 87,400.

Just before that, in early May, the number of user accounts at Upwork began to grow as well. On March 31, the site reported 643,000 user accounts, or workers. As of this week, that number has swelled to 938,000. That’s still a far cry from the 2.6 million workers the site reported in February, but it appears that things are up again at Upwork.

To be clear, not just anyone can sign up for Upwork. The company asks that new accounts create a profile and that within 24 hours they’ll either be accepted or not. It appears, then, that the company began approving profile requests in early March in earnest.

The type of gig work available on Upwork remains biased toward skilled workers in software development, design, and writing, with “Web Mobile Software Development” showing the most gigs at 271,000 as of this week.

The change is a positive sign for those looking to make some extra money during uncertain times, especially after we found that Upwork had been plagued by too little work for too many people.

This recent surge also comes as the company has made some goodwill efforts that include its Work Together Talent Grants Program, which gives $25,000 grants to freelancers who can “help develop and accelerate projects whose mission is tied directly to mitigating COVID-19’s devastating impact on individuals, communities, and economies.” 

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online – jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings – and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales. 

Further Reading: 



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New Yorkers Turn to “Gig” Economy to Make Ends Meet

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Many New Yorkers who have lost jobs due to the pandemic have turned to the gig economy to make ends meet.

Stasha Gumienny is one of them. She works for DoorDash. She’s a “DoorDasher” on top of her full-time job as a school administrator. She’s been dashing since September after she lost her second job as a restaurant hostess last year.

“I was really feeling the hit of not having that second job,” said Gumienny. “I had visited the food pantry a couple of times.”


What You Need To Know

  • Stasha Gumienny is a single mom who works at a school during the day and door dashes in the evenings and on weekends to make ends meet
  • Gumienny lost her second job as a restaurant hostess in 2020, when restaurants shut down at the height of the pandemic
  • According to Lyft, 20 percent of their drivers reported driving more during the pandemic after getting laid off or having their hours cut due to COVID-19

As a single mom, losing that second income was tough.

“I was in a low. I was really getting nervous,” said Gumienny. “I had a couple financial meltdowns. I kept seeing the DoorDash availability on Indeed, and I said, ‘You know what, what do I got to lose?'”

She’s not alone.

According to DoorDash, nearly two million people became door dashers from March to September of 2020.

According to ride-share app Lyft, 20 percent of their drivers said that they drove more during the pandemic because they were laid off or had their hours cut due to COVID-19.

With DoorDash’s flexible hours, Gumienny usually dashes on weeknights and weekends. She leaves her first job at 3 p.m. and starts door dashing by 4 p.m., all so she can make it home to her daughter in time for dinner.

“I do sometimes feel guilty because I’m giving up those Saturdays and Sundays during prime play hours to be with my daughter, but I also know that I’m modeling for her what it takes, and what I’m doing,” said Gumienny. “And she’s learned the quality of a dollar.”

Each delivery can bring in about $6 to $10, and those deliveries add up.

“That might not seem worth it to someone, but if you do this three times a night, or a week, and maybe one weekend, you’re going to see almost $200,” said Gumienny.

After just two hours on the road, she’s done for the night and heads home to make dinner for her 11-year-old daughter, Hannah.

“This is why I wouldn’t want to DoorDash past 6 o’clock. Hannah’s doing homework, and we try to get a good night in,” said Gumienny, as she prepared dinner for the night.

She does this multiple times a week, a grueling work day all to make life a little easier for her and her daughter.



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‘Lapsis’ and the Rise of Gig-Economy Sci-Fi

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Ray Tincelli, a good-humored, pot-bellied, middle-aged guy with a “’70s mobster” vibe and money troubles, is looking for a new gig. His day job as a courier for a sketchy lost baggage company isn’t cutting it. Played with hangdog charm by Dean Imperial—he looks like Jeremy Piven gone to seed—Tincelli is a brusque Queens dude who could be imported from any number of prestigious cable dramas. For these reasons and more, he’s the offbeat, magnetic center of Lapsis, the funny and surprisingly humane new science fiction indie from first-time feature director Noah Hutton.

The grubby world Ray inhabits looks like ours, but the details are slightly skewed. Ray’s younger half-brother Jamie (Babe Howard), a once-hearty hiker, is now sidelined with a mysterious chronic fatigue syndrome called Omnia. This syndrome is widespread enough that there’s an entire scammy cottage industry around treating it, and Ray is hoping to get his brother into a treatment center. After his courier job is kaput, he seeks advice from a slippery neighborhood character named Felix (James McDaniel), who hooks Ray up with a “cabling medallion” as long as Ray promises to share a cut of his profits. A twist on a taxi medallion, the cabling medallion is a black-market ticket into the world of “cabling,” a bustling new line of contract work where “cablers” spend their days stringing yards upon yards of fiber-optic cables through wooded areas to attach to large metal boxes plopped in forests. It’s all in service of quantum computing, a new information superstructure that has taken over the globe. According to Felix, they’re paid handsomely for their troubles. And so Ray goes forth, into the woods, huffing and puffing his way toward the enigmatic boxes and potential financial freedom.

Lapsis, which is currently available on VOD, is a film in the tradition of lo-fi sci-fi, a genre of independent, dialog-dense science fiction without high-budget spectacle. Think Robot & Frank, Primer, or Being John Malkovich. Or think Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, another satire about the gig economy set in a slightly alternate, slightly futuristic reality. Both are political parables, using genre to prod the callous excesses of capitalism. But while Sorry to Bother You is balls-to-the-wall bonkers, Lapsis is a gentler outing, unspooling its story through long hikes in the woods.

The mechanics of cabling make little sense, but the film isn’t concerned with explaining the logic of its quantum computing empire. The setup is as arcane to the average person as bitcoin mining, because the details don’t matter. What matters is that it’s the newest iteration of grunt work in a global economy reliant on low-paying, no-benefits contractors for human fuel. During his first week on the job, Ray doesn’t learn a thing about what plugging the wires into the boxes actually achieves; what he does learn is that the cabling underclass is justifiably and mightily pissed off—and that the cabling medallion he used once belonged to a notorious former cabler known as “Lapsis Beeftech.”

He learns even more once he strikes up a friendship with Anna (Madeline Wise), a seasoned cabler attempting to organize her coworkers. The cabling company uses tiny doglike robots as pacers for its human workers; if a robot passes them on the trail, it can steal their route and take their money. They’re the bane of the cablers, who scheme to derail the little machines, and the brainchild of the original Lapsis Beeftech. Anna helps Ray trap one of the pacers, and they become confidants. And despite his best efforts to keep his head down and continue earning, Ray is quickly embroiled in a larger plot to find the original Lapsis and instigate a worker revolt.

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Nigerian fintech startup ImaliPay raises pre-seed funding to service gig workers’ financial needs

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Nigerian startup ImaliPay, which leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to offer tailored financial products that promote the inclusion of gig economy platforms and workers across Africa, has raised a round of pre-seed funding to scale more quickly.

Co-founded early last year by Tatenda Furusa and Sanmi Akinmusire, ImaliPay offers both new and existing gig workers or freelancers the ability to seamlessly save their income and receive in-kind loans through a buy now, pay later model tied to their trade.

As gig workers save money or repay loans on time, they are able to build a credit history that will in turn unlock more formal financial services in the future.

ImaliPay has secured an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding in order to scale its customer base, with the round led by Australian venture capital firm TEN13, which has also invested in the likes of Chipper Cash and Bookipi. Other investors included in the raise are FINCA Ventures, Optimiser Foundation, Mercy Corps Ventures, Changecom, and angels from Nigeria, Kenya, Norway, and the United Kingdom (UK). 

The primary aim of the investment is to expand and accelerate its growth and footprint in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, with ImaliPay aiming to become the one-stop-shop for gig workers’ financial needs. 

“It’s a great opportunity for investors to participate in the fintech revolution and a fast-growing segment. Our vision at ImaliPay is to advance financial health and inclusion for gig workers who struggle to manage and access flexible financial services that are often only available to traditional SMEs”, said Furusa.

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