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Is Gig Work a Good Alternative for College Students Whose Jobs Have Been Eliminated?

Last updated: May 20, 2020
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There has been a lot of talk lately about how the coronavirus will affect graduating college seniors as they enter the job market, but very little talk about how the nationwide shutdowns are affecting undergrad students who depend on their college jobs to make ends meet while still in school.

Now that colleges and universities have closed across the country, so have most of the jobs students depend on.

The economic ecosystem that is built around college students and that provides financial support for them while they’re still in school has been decimated. A College Reaction poll released this week found that 75% of college students had their jobs either cancelled, virtualized or postponed. 38% were cancelled and 37% were postponed or made virtual.

The cancelled and postponed jobs are as good as no jobs at all. Joining the other 30+ million people who have lost their jobs in the last month and a half, college students will find no easy road back to employment.

Is Driving for Uber or Lyft a Good Alternative?

In a word, no. Rideshare driving is all but dead. Full-time rideshare drivers were having a hard time making ends meet before the pandemic hit and the nation went into hibernation. And things are much worse now.

In a March 2020 survey of rideshare drivers, taken just after the nation’s largest cities went into lockdown, Ridester.com found that drivers had lost 80% of their income within a single week following the lockdowns.

Things have still not improved and we don’t expect them to improve for a very long time, even after the lockdowns are lifted.

All the sources of rideshare business have been shut down and it will be a long time before they come back to their pre-pandemic levels. The three main sources of rideshare business are:

  • The daily commute to and from work;
  • After-work activities, such as dining out, bars, sporting events and concerts;
  • Airport trips

All of these have been adversely affected by the nationwide shutdown. Non-essential workers are no longer commuting to work. Office workers have been working from home and we believe many will continue working from home long after the states lift their lockdown orders.

Many predicted in the early days of the lockdown that employees and employers alike would see that telecommuting or working from home is actually a viable option. The New York Times reported that after the lockdowns end, many companies may let their workers stay home. Companies that in the past were leery of letting employees work from home, have now been forced to try it and some have decided it’s not as bad as they thought it might be. Many companies have seen that it actually works out rather well.

Other companies are realizing if they could let a percentage of their workforce work from home, they could save a ton of money on office space expenses. All of this points to a smaller commuter base as things gradually return to our new normal.

Even if the number of daily commuters shrinks by just 10%, that will mean a big loss in income for rideshare drivers. That’s because Uber and Lyft both always took on far more drivers than they really needed. The more drivers they have, the more time each driver waits in between trips. And because drivers only get paid when they have a passenger in the car, longer waiting times means lower hourly earnings.

With massive unemployment more people than ever will flock to the gig companies, especially Uber and Lyft to try and make ends meet. And Uber and Lyft have a long track record of never turning down qualified drivers. If they continue in that way and don’t put limits on the number of drivers they take on, then we foresee drivers making less than $5 an hour. It’s possible that many drivers could even lose money each hour they drive.

Unfortunately, we don’t see rideshare driving as a viable option for college students who need to earn a living wage. Ridership will be down and more drivers than ever will be competing for trips. We think it will be difficult for rideshare drivers to earn even minimum wage anytime in the next couple of years.

Gig Opportunities that Might Work for College Students

Uber and Lyft are such big names that they immediately come to mind when people think of gig work. But there are hundreds of gig companies and there is gig work in every imaginable field. There are even gig jobs for doctors and nurses! There are gigs for handymen. And there are gigs for plumbers and carpenters.

But are there decent gigs for college students?

Ideally, a college student would be able to find a gig they could make decent money from and that would also be somewhat related to what they eventually want to do.

College students might want to look at some of the freelance websites, such as Upwork.com, Guru.com or MediaBistro.com. There is a wide variety of jobs available on these sites and not all jobs are obvious at first glance. The typical jobs are for things like writers, social media directors, researchers, copywriters, graphic designers, software developers. Pretty much anything you can do with your brain and a computer is available from these sites.

Each of the sites comes with its own hurdles and frustrations and people don’t usually make good money at first. It usually takes a good deal of time to build up your reputation to the point where you can get enough business to make a decent income. But, if you’re not pinched for cash, they can be great places to build up your experience and resume.

Food Delivery

For students who really just need the cash and don’t care about building up their resumes right now, there are the food delivery services.

Food delivery drivers are reporting pretty good earnings right now. Instacart’s business has skyrocketed. They’ve added 300,000 workers in just the last couple of months.

Workers for Instacart, however, may feel that they are at some risk when it comes to their health. That’s because the typical Instacart job is to shop a customer’s grocery list. A customer will order from a grocery store that has partnered with Instacart and the Instacart shopper will go into the store, find and purchase the items on the customer’s list and then deliver them to the customer. This does involve some interaction with others that some people may not be comfortable with at this stage.

Instacart workers are telling us that they’re doing pretty well right now, financially.

DoorDash is another alternative and its workers are reporting making pretty good money right now as well. DoorDash mainly works with restaurants and this job also involves some contact with others. Upon receiving an order DoorDash drivers will normally head to a restaurant to pick up a meal that has been ordered by a customer. This usually involves going into the restaurant, paying for the meal with a DoorDash-issued credit card and picking up the food and delivering it to the customer.

This involves several health risks from being in close contact with restaurant workers to touching the bags they have put the orders in. If you can do this while wearing a mask and remember not to touch your face before you sanitize your hands, you should be okay health wise.

Other gig companies in the food delivery space include GrubHub and UberEats.

We consider food delivery to be probably one of the safest gig opportunities that involves person-to-person contact. That’s because your contact is very limited. Rideshare drivers have prolong exposure to passengers who may be carrying COVID-19, and their exposure is in the confined space of a a car. Because of that, rideshare driving is an especially risky occupation during this time. But food delivery is a much better option from a health standpoint due to is more limited person-to-person contact and due to the fact that that contact takes place in a space much larger than the interior of a car.

Mix and Match

The beauty of gig work is that you don’t have to be tied down to just one thing. You can mix and match your gigs. For instance, you may decide to work with one of the freelance sites exercising your creative instincts doing some writing or graphic design. And while waiting for that to take off, you might do some food deliveries during mealtimes.

That’s the beauty of gig work. You can come and go as you please! Work for Upwork a few hours in the morning, take a break and head out to deliver some meals for DoorDash in the afternoon. Upwork for experience and resume building with a future income potential and DoorDash for income right now!

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