The “gig economy,” popularized by the likes of Lyft, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit has for years been promoted as an effective way for Americans to make money on their terms. But new data show that the majority of workers – 85 percent of them – make less than $500 a month, on average, using those services.
The home-sharing site Airbnb yielded the highest monthly return to its users, with a median income of $440, more than double the $210 a month earned by the median Lyft driver, according to San Francisco-based loan provider Earnest, which analyzed tens of thousands of loan applications to study the impact of gig-economy jobs. (Earnings on other popular platforms included a monthly median of $40 on craft-selling site Etsy, $70 on delivery app Postmates, $110 on services marketplace TaskRabbit and $155 on ride-sharing app Uber.)
“We’re starting to see that these gigs are filling in the gaps for a lot of people – a little bit of extra money here for a student loan payment, or a few hours of work there to create additional income,” said Catherine New, a senior editor at Earnest. “But bigger picture, you also see that people are having to work two or three jobs to make ends meet.”
Nearly one in four Americans now earns money from the digital “platform economy,” according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. And increasingly, their experiences – and their earnings – are split between those who are supplementing their incomes with side gigs and those who rely on those piecemeal earnings to eke out a living.
There are “profound differences” in the ways people use the gig-economy, says Aaron Smith, associate director of research on Internet and technology issues at Pew.
“A young professional who occasionally supplements her income by renting out her apartment on Airbnb is much different from a single mother who works for a ride-hailing service in between child-care obligations,” Smith writes in the report.
Black and Latino workers, and those with lower household incomes tend to take on labor-intensive tasks – driving passengers for Uber or Lyft, say, or delivering groceries through Instacart or Postmates, the survey found. Their wealthier, white counterparts were more likely to make money by renting out rooms in their homes through Airbnb or selling handmade or used goods online on sites like Etsy.