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Gig-economy workers already knew what coronavirus is teaching the rest of us now

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A pandemic isn’t forever, but it should forever change the way we view our vulnerabilities.

Medically, most of the afflicted will recover.

Economically, most of those affected will rebound.

But the way we work — the way we think about jobs and the jobless — will never be the same. It hasn’t been for a long time.

If today feels abnormal — waiting at home for weeks to be called back to your old workplace — welcome to the new normal. If you’re lucky, you at least have a workplace still waiting for you.

If you think these are tough times, spare a thought for those already living it, and likely to experience it for the rest of their working lives. Who are these people?

Today these people are us, cooped up at home. But in recent years, it has been a lot of “other” people — from the millennial children of boomers who have never known anything but the gig economy, to new immigrants lacking local experience, to older workers lacking retraining.

Bouncing from part-time job to contract job to temporary job. Waiting at home to get a gig offering free food samples to shoppers; or on call to deliver your Amazon parcels; or checking the part-time roster at Tim Hortons for an unscheduled shift.

The new world of work long predates the novel coronavirus. And long after the pandemic disappears, the gig economy will keep growing — and going viral — with all the uncertainty, insecurity and disruption you feel in your bones today.

We may put off the pandemic by bending the curve and displacing the peak. But we cannot bend the old economy back into shape, because the gig curve keeps getting steeper.

The pandemic will one day go away, but the precarious economy won’t. We can no longer ignore either of these global phenomena.

Now that we have your attention and rumination, consider the solution. Like infectious diseases, insecurity is nothing new — it keeps coming back in one form or another.

We all hope there will one day be a vaccine for the pandemic.

But we already have the antidote to precarity: security — income security.

And not just in an emergency.

Income security sounds like something abstract or complicated, but nothing could be more tangible and understandable: If you lose income, you make it up with a guaranteed minimum; if you gain or regain income, you give up your supplement (it’s taxed back).

You want complexity and uncertainty? Consider the current patchwork of social welfare programs for those in need, in economic distress, or without employment income:

Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program. There’s also EI, OAS, GIS and ODB — short for Employment Insurance, Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement and Ontario Drug Benefit.

There are many more, but you get the idea. Yet did you truly know — before the pandemic hit and emergency aid magically appeared from Ottawa — that less than one-third of unemployed Ontarians were eligible for jobless benefits?

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What’s the point of EI if it has been whittled away to a boutique insurance program targeting only the most resilient among us? What about those who need it most, but can’t get EI in the same way that people with pre-existing conditions can’t get health insurance in the U.S.?

Few people paid attention when the province’s last Liberal government proposed a three-year pilot program to give the most vulnerable Ontarians an understandable and dependable minimum income. There were no votes in it, because the minimum income isn’t a partisan play.

Yet it’s a practical idea that attracts support from both left and right for its simplicity, efficiency and humanity. It also inspires skepticism from people on all sides of the political spectrum who are suspicious of motives and skeptical of change.

But the world is changing. Even if some politicians prefer disruption to adaptation.

Running to be premier, Doug Ford’s campaign made an explicit promise to retain that minimum income pilot. Upon winning power, Ford broke that promise and barely anyone noticed.

Within days of taking over, he also cancelled a new OHIP+ program that extended major drug coverage to young adults and senior citizens — the beginnings of a universal pharmacare program patterned on our successful medicare OHIP coverage. Many workers enjoy private workplace programs, so why worry about those without — until it affects us?

Don’t blame Ford alone for his thoughtlessness — he did what he thought he could get away with, knowing voters would think little of it. Once he realized people were paying attention to the punitive and perilous nature of sick notes for ill workers — banned by the previous government but restored by Ford — he belatedly banned them again this week.

When people panic, our politicians respond quickly with programs to plug the gaps, as we saw this week from both our federal and provincial governments. What will it take for all of us — and all our politicians — to understand that the time for a minimum income has come?

Politicians don’t really change until people change.

Sitting at home, worrying about when we’ll be back in the workplace, it is perhaps easier for people to grasp the gig economy that leaves so many others out of work so much of the time. The realization may slowly sink in that this is the new normal, not just in times of pandemics but in precarious times.

What happens when life returns to normal? Will it be business as usual for those without work?

Are we going to just withdraw the temporary social safety net extended for this month’s pandemic? Once most of us bounce back, will we leave everyone else to brace for a hard landing in the precarious workplace that never goes away?

Unlike a pandemic, precarity is permanent.



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Economy

Future of Work | The Gig Economy

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Future of Work


Clip | 3m 2s

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Video has closed captioning.

Today more than 55 million Americans work in the gig economy, which operates through digital platforms like Uber, Lyft and Task Rabbit. Fueled by technological advancements, the gig economy allows workers like Chloe Grishaw to set her own schedule, and know what she’s agreeing to, without any long-term obligations. The freedom and flexibility, however, comes with financial insecurity.

Aired:
09/01/21

Rating: NR

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Economy

Gig Economy—How Deep Is The Discontent? – BloombergQuint

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Economy

Good news and bad news about the ‘gig’ and app-based economy, according to JPM

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A recent JPMorgan Chase report found that workers earning money through the online platform economy are particularly vulnerable to economic shocks.

The online platform economy, which includes ride-sharing services like Uber (UBER) and Lyft (LYFT), online marketplaces like eBay (EBAY) and StockX, telemedicine companies like Teladoc, and other online services, supports almost 8% of families in the United States, according to the report.

This sector also experienced a higher rate of unemployment than the general economy, the report found. “Overall, we see significantly higher UI rates among platform participants relative to the non-platform group,” authors Fiona Greig and Daniel M. Sullivan, wrote in the report. 

“At its peak, the UI receipt rate of drivers was just under 19 percent, over twice the rate of the non-platform group. UI receipt rate among platform participants in other sectors are also elevated, peaking between 13 and 15 percent.”

Rideshare Uber and Lyft drivers rally in support of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Rideshare Uber and Lyft drivers rally in support of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Workers in such industries may be particularly vulnerable to economic volatility like the one induced by the coronavirus pandemic, the report found. “Almost one in five drivers in 2019 was receiving unemployment insurance at the beginning of the pandemic,” the authors wrote. “Of all platform workers, drivers appear to be the group of biggest concern for policymakers from a welfare perspective. They are the most numerous group, have the lowest family incomes, were the most likely to have received unemployment insurance during 2020.”

Drivers were the group which, in the aggregate, were most reliant on the gig economy for income, with leasing platforms accounting for 15% and 20% of the median family’s total income. However, this share of income has decreased since the onset of the pandemic, in part due to reduced demand for riding services as well as an influx of support from government transfer payments.

“The continued rise of the Online Platform Economy raises the importance of strengthening the social safety net for contingent workers and reducing the administrative burdens associated with platform income,” Greig and Sullivan wrote. “Reducing administrative hassles associated with verifying platform income for the purposes of filing taxes, qualifying for social safety net programs, or gaining access to credit, could materially improve and simplify the financial lives of platform workers.”

Online platform economy ‘on the rise’

Despite the new and continuing risks associated with it, the gig and app-based economy has provided a significant role in generating income for people, especially during the pandemic.

“The Online Platform Economy is a crucial source of income for many families even after the shock of the pandemic,” the report noted. “At its peak, almost 8 percent of families earned platform income in any 12 month window.”

Drivers in the ride-sharing economy make up a large portion of the growing gig economy. The online platform economy is especially important for these drivers, who “represent the lion’s share of supply-side platform participants and have the smallest total family incomes,” the authors wrote. “Additionally, lessors derive the highest revenues and the largest share of their total family income from platforms.”

Though concerns regarding the treatment of drivers in the ride-sharing companies have abounded recently, the online platform economy continues to grow and already represents an important part of the total economy, the authors found.

Ihsaan Fanusie is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @IFanusie.

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