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With all the focus on whether Congress will enact a major infrastructure law to rebuild the United States’ roads, bridges, railways, etc., nobody seems to be paying attention to the elephant in the room: Even if the legislation is passed, where do we begin? You might be surprised to learn that the gig economy has an app for that.
We can and should hire professional consultants and other experts to review our infrastructure systems to see what needs the most immediate attention, but the sheer number of roads, bridges, dams and other critical infrastructure in the U.S. makes the job of prioritizing daunting.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, there are over 4 million miles of public roads, 617,000 bridges, 91,000 dams and 140,000 rail miles in the U.S. These are massive statistics.
So as soon as an infrastructure bill passes, the big questions will be: Where do we begin, and how do we set priorities — expeditiously and at minimum cost, at least for the first step? The next step would be to bring in professional engineers and experts to begin the rebuilding process.
There are some obvious examples of infrastructure systems needing immediate, prioritized attention (see the Sidney Sherman Bridge in Houston, which had to be shut down a few years ago for a corroded bridge bearing and was recently classified as “structurally deficient”).
Fortunately, there is another massive statistic out there that can help: 216 million. That is the approximate number of U.S. adults that own a smartphone. Pew Research Center recently found that 85% of all U.S. adults own a smartphone, which, needless to say, is the highest it’s ever been. Even enlisting just a small percentage of the 216 million smartphone users out there can help immensely with this task.
Federal, state and local governments can and should consider the awesome (and relatively inexpensive) power of our smartphones and the gig economy. Gig workers can be enlisted to use the smartphones that they already own to provide inspection data and photographs of the key identified roads, bridges, dams and rails in the 50 states. The data and photos they collect can then be instantly transmitted to a national database for review and evaluation by professional engineers and consultants.
I know this can be done because my colleagues and I have done this before. We tap into a worldwide network of gig workers (data collectors or data contributors) operating from an open source app and with full transparency.
Our projects have involved contributors photographing and documenting sewer access points, bridges, water access points and other infrastructure systems. We even partnered with a major nonprofit on behalf of USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance to bolster its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Program by providing rapid WASH needs assessments wherein our contributors can be mobilized on an emergency basis to provide photographs and other data on water access, sanitation and hygiene in Colombia.
Why can’t we do the same for bridges, roads, tunnels and other infrastructure here in the U.S.? This technology needs to be scaled, and we know it can be done.
It’s simple — and the solution is in plain sight. Our smartphones and gig workers allow us to set priorities using their photos and input from what their eyes are seeing, and then professional experts can follow up to begin implementation. There are already provisions in the Senate bill that could provide funding for this type of advanced technology research. And there is an ongoing need, even after repairs are done, to monitor the condition of our highways, bridges and tunnels.
Using this gig-worker-enabled smartphone technology will not only help our federal, state and local governments set priorities quickly; it will also allow thousands of everyday Americans to be part of the rebuilding process. This has the added benefit of democratizing the job of fixing our infrastructure and creating a grassroots movement of people using their own smartphones to help rebuild and repair U.S. infrastructure for the current and future generations.
On Sept. 1, Attorney General Maura Healey gave the go-ahead to a ballot question that, if approved by voters, would maintain gig workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, as independent contractors.
At the same time, Healey and her office continue to spearhead a lawsuit against Uber and Lyft that accuses the rideshare companies of denying benefits to workers — whom she believes should be classified as employees, not contractors, under Massachusetts law.
On GBH’s Boston Public Radio segment “Meet the AG” Tuesday afternoon, host Jim Braude asked Healey to clarify the two simultaneous actions.
“We better be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Healey said. “Under the state constitution, there’s a process that allows regular folks to go ahead and get things on a ballot for a vote, and that happens every year … There may be litigation, there may not be litigation, but that’s just the hat that I wear as attorney general.”
Healey noted that her job is to review the ballot question’s language and to see whether or not it satisfies the legal requirements to make the ballot, regardless of her personal preference.
The ballot question garnered much attention in recent months as supporters — including a coalition of app-based businesses like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart — argued that by keeping workers as independent contractors, the workers would be able to have more freedom with their job and set a minimum earnings guarantee.
Opponents of the ballot question — like Healey — have said that it would continue to allow gig economy employers to provide less security for those who work for these companies. Throughout the pandemic, these companies have seen pushback from both gig economy workers and users on the treatment of employees.
“As the economy grows, and work and the type of jobs change, there’s something they have to abide by,” Healey said. “We need to continue to treat workers fairly in this country, we need to make sure they’re not exploited.”
Healey’s lawsuit, which was first announced in July 2020, asserts that rideshare drivers and similar workers should qualify as employees rather than independent contractors under Massachusetts Wage and Hour Laws.
In the lawsuit, Healey said her fair labor team determined that, under state law, gig workers should have access to minimum wage, earned sick time and other benefits and labor rights an employee would have. In March, the Suffolk Superior Court denied Uber and Lyft’s motion to dismiss Healey’s lawsuit.
“Yes, gig workers and the gig economy are super convenient for all of us as consumers, right. There’s a price for that. And as we move forward with this gig economy, certain principles have got to abide. That’s why we have employment laws here in Massachusetts, and that’s why I’m in court against Uber and Lyft,” she said.
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The pandemic isn’t crushing the entrepreneurial spirit. It’s fuelling it.
People normally tied to a desk or working double shifts used lockdown to launch side hustles, often out of necessity. And some have turned those side gigs into full-fledged businesses.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 427,842 new business applications were filed in August 2021 alone. That figure was 288, 026 in August 2019.
While a side gig can be spontaneous, growing a legit business requires research, planning and organization. Otherwise, your fledgling enterprise could crash and burn in a couple of years.
These basic but essential steps can help you take things to the next level and give your new venture a shot at staying power.
There are six common types of business entities: sole proprietorship, general partnership, limited partnership, C corporation, S corporation and limited liability company. The option you choose determines how your business is taxed, as well as who is financially responsible if your business is sued.
Entrepreneurs often default to sole proprietorship because it’s the easiest, but it’s also the riskiest, says Nellie Akalp, CEO and co-founder of corpnet.com, a document filing service that helps streamline the business formation process for entrepreneurs.
“There is no registration required nor are there corporate requirements,” Akalp says. But “there is no legal separation from the company, so the sole proprietor is personally responsible for any debts or liabilities.”
Registering as an LLC or corporation is more expensive and requires more paperwork, but it shields your personal assets from lawsuits.
Mixing business and personal finances can get messy, especially when it comes to filing taxes or securing a business loan. Open a business checking account to keep business income and expenses organized and easily accessible.
Look for a business account that has low or no monthly fees and fits your business needs in terms of transaction and deposit limits.
A business credit card can also help you track expenses and identify tax deductions. Plus, you can earn rewards, like cash back on gas, office supplies and business consulting services.
No more manual spreadsheets or shoeboxes full of receipts; scale up to an accounting software that can do some of the heavy lifting for you, like tracking cash flow, managing invoices and generating reports.
Expect a learning curve with any new system, but know that it will help your operation run more smoothly. The right accounting software can also give you deeper insights into your business and help you identify weak points and opportunities to save money.
“Accounting is the language of business, so invest time and money into understanding how to do your books,” says Danetha Doe, founder of Money and Mimosas, a financial education platform for independent contractors, freelancers and small-business owners. “As a business owner, learning how to manage your company’s finances, read profit and loss statements, and understanding cash flows will make you a better entrepreneur.”
Your side hustle may have started organically, but turning it into a full-fledged business requires research and planning.
Sketch out short – and long-term goals for your business, along with a sales plan, financial projections and potential roadblocks. Be realistic, set specific targets and spell out how you plan to reach them.
Building a business plan gives you a road map for how to grow your business. It also shows lenders you’ve done your homework should you need to secure a business loan.
Need help with your business plan? Turn to your local Small Business Development Center. These outposts are run by the U.S. Small Business Administration and offer free business consulting services.
Entrepreneurs, by nature, wear many hats. But you don’t need to wear all the hats.
Outsourcing some aspects of your business frees you up to focus on other things, like customer service or product development.
Not hip to social media? Consider hiring someone to build and manage your business’s presence on Instagram, TikTok and the like.
Do tax forms make your eyes cross? Invest in a certified public accountant to file for you.
“CPAs may be more expensive than doing taxes on your own, but it will be done right,” says John Pham, founder of The Money Ninja, a personal finance website. “Plus, they will maximize your tax deductions, which will most likely give you a higher return than the cost of a CPA.”
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