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This Labor Day, there will be many people who don’t have the day off.
Beginning in high school and through college, I worked part-time, sometimes full-time jobs, mostly at restaurants. I usually piled on a few positions in the summers in a desperate cash grab to save as much as possible. When I graduated university—a move that felt a bit like clipping the puppet strings only to find out there was still a wind-up key in my back—there was a period of time where also taking a steady job, part- or full-time, wasn’t an option.
I turned to a trusty medium—a website that had furnished half of my apartment and provided some bizarrely heartwarming short story inspiration through its “Missed Connections” listings: Craigslist. I embarked on a mission to become an all-reigning Queen of the Side Hustle, only this time, my side hustle was, temporarily, my full-time hustle.
I made several posts on the site, one more in tune with my bachelor’s degree, “Copy Editing and Resume Help,” and another that was basically “I’ll Do Whatever Around the House or Yard, Just Give me Money and Don’t Murder Me and Bury me Under the Above-Ground Pool.” The latter received more interest.
The next month found me planting flowers, weeding gardens and, in one case, reluctantly taking home seven of more than 100 homemade, keyboard-only CDs recorded and produced by a man who had hired me to clean out his attic.
Throughout my late-teen-early-adult hood, I’ve mowed lawns, nannied, tutored English, written blogs for companies, curated newsletter campaigns, washed dishes, catered weddings and generally found ways to cobble together a supplemental income. I’ve had Care.com profiles, Petsitter.com profiles, half of an account on Wag! (it’s an unexpectedly tedious application process) and an UpWork profile. I’m not alone. I join my fellow Millennials and Gen X-ers in the Gig Economy Kingdom, where we scramble to find part-time, one-time and contract positions in lieu of well-paid nine-to-five positions.
The rise of apps and websites such as Uber, Lyft, Bird, Airbnb, UpWork, DoorDash and a litany of others comprise the real estate of this kingdom. A decade after the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. is seeing more gig workers than ever, according to Forbes. The Harvard Business Review cites nearly 150 million independent contractors in North America and Western Europe. These unstable positions are projected to make up around 40% of the workforce by next year.
Some people choose independent work on purpose. The freedom of not having a boss, picking your own hours and sometimes making more than you could in a nine-to-five can be attractive. But many of us do it because we’ve found ourselves saddled with student-loan debt, high costs of living and an unrealistic housing market, all while not being paid enough for jobs we were trained to do (and I’m not just talking about positions in the humanities).
Kristin Larsen’s blog, “Believe in a Budget,” includes a post about how she made a whopping $4,500 on side hustles in one year, mostly from walking dogs and completing online surveys (many of which took up to three days to complete).
The environment is risky. Gigs come with no benefits and no job security, and leave workers completely vulnerable to their environments. Suppose you’re making half your income driving an Uber and then your city outlaws ride sharing. A fellow side-hustle queen could find herself woefully dethroned—without the royal severance package.
In a survey of 65 gig workers, also conducted by the Harvard Business Review, every single person said “that they felt a host of personal, social and economic anxieties without the cover and support of a traditional employer.”
Being a member of the gig economy means being in a constant state of uncertainty. That’s bad for mental health. It’s no wonder we’ve seen a dramatic interest in “self care” as of late. In some cases, it’s also devalued our work. “Content houses” that shop out blog and “content writers” for less than 10 cents a word saturate the market and make it hard for trained writers to ask for the money they deserve. The same can be said for designers, artists, photographers, landscapers and a host of other professions that were once considered crafts.
Positively, the gig economy has made many of my friends more resourceful and creative. I have a friend who lives abroad and funds her trips to the U.S. by using an app called “Hitchhiker,” in which people pay her to bring (legal) items they can’t get in their home countries. Another avoids rent by house sitting nearly every week.
In this case, I’m not concerned about my generation’s ability to adapt. What’s concerning is the way we’ve adapted to instability.
Sometimes, I feel less like a queen, and more like the joker.