Chase Copridge sleeps in a van, then spends 16 hours a day sitting in a car. Parked outside San Francisco Bay Area grocery stores with other drivers, he’s waiting for a job on Instacart, DoorDash, or Amazon Flex, whatever app he’s working for that day.
But delivery assignments were rare because winter outbreak of Covid cases triggered new lockdowns in multiple states, sparking growing competition for app-based work. Before the pandemic, Mr Copridge says he easily earned up to $ 400 in a single day, but that amount was at an all-time low of between $ 100 and $ 150 in recent weeks – at the end of a devastating year for the American economy and its own finances.
“This is the reality of working on stage,” he says. “Time wasted on family and friends and other ways in life just to get by.”
The 33-year-old driver’s struggles in California are emblematic of the wider struggles in the U.S. job market, which, after rebounding faster than expected from the initial pandemic shock, is showing signs of another serious downturn.
US employers put on the brakes on rehiring workers coronavirus crisis, creating only 245,000 jobs in November, against 611,000 the previous month.
As a job in restaurants, cinemas, shops and other parts of the service economy is under pressure, more and more people are turning to on-demand work such as delivery, putting downward pressure on income, workers say.
Same-day delivery service Shipt, owned by retailer Target, said the number of independent contractors it now pays to pick groceries from store shelves and deliver them to customers has more than doubled. since late 2019. Grocery delivery service Instacart hired 300,000 new buyers in April alone and announced plans to hire 250,000 more.
At the same time, the pandemic restrictions are cutting into areas of the odd-job economy such as car transport. Uber said in August its gross ride bookings had dropped 75 percent between April and June.
One of the most troubling features of the labor market downturn has been a surge in claims for unemployment benefits paid under a federal program put in place specifically for on-demand workers and the self-employed who don’t. do not have access to regular state benefits.
According to the labor department, 455,037 people applied for the pandemic unemployment assistance scheme in the week to December 12, nearly double the number two weeks earlier, and the number of new applicants was always high during the week until December 26, at 308.262.
“You have really seen very little improvement in the economy since August [and that] is booming in this new wave of pandemic, ”said Eliza Forsythe, professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “People in service jobs, customer-facing jobs, low-wage workers and on-demand workers have been hit the hardest throughout this period. This same group of people again lose their jobs and go back to unemployment insurance. ”
Even in states like Texas that have fewer Covid-related activity restrictions, low-wage workers are struggling to get back into business.
Willy Solis has traveled through suburban Dallas for apps like Shipt since late 2019 to help bridge the gap between construction jobs. Mr Solis says his income as a Shipt buyer has plummeted in recent weeks, and that expenses, including gasoline, insurance and additional personal protective equipment, have reduced his dwindling income.
Mr Solis – who also works with the Gig Workers Collective, an informal union of Shipt buyers and drivers for Instacart and DoorDash – said many others were also complaining about the reduced workload. “There are fewer orders in our individual queues,” he says.
Shipt said in a statement that buyers of the company were being offered more orders than they were then in 2019, in addition to free PPE and holiday bonuses.
This week, American workers like Mr. Copridge and Mr. Solis received a significant reprieve. After months of torturous negotiations and tense confrontations, Congress and the White House adopted a $ 900 billion economic relief bill this includes a check for $ 600 for people earning up to $ 75,000 per year as well as small business assistance. More importantly, for the millions of low-wage workers and workers on the frontlines of the crisis, the legislation also reduced emergency unemployment benefits worth $ 300 per week to each beneficiary for an additional 11 weeks. .
“There is enormous relief,” said Andrew Stettner, senior researcher at the Century Foundation, a think tank. “It avoids poverty, it avoids extreme distress, but for many people in this place it is still a limited package. They are still in a difficult situation.
Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project in Washington, said unemployment benefit recipients would still have to wait a few more weeks to receive their payments while states reconfigured their systems so the delay in reaching a compromise on Capitol Hill had already taken its toll on the most affected workers in the labor market.
And she expressed concern that minority groups might not get the same access to relief benefits as other workers. “Fewer people are receiving benefits, and those benefits are lower in states with the highest populations of black workers, Latino workers and indigenous workers,” she said.
In California, Copridge expressed a sense of helplessness, saying that until the economy fully recovers, he sees no viable alternatives to working on stage. The stimulus check will help subsidize the cost of his car, but even if a planned increase at $ 2000 were approved, that would not change the game.
“For most of the people in the Bay Area, it won’t hurt them,” he says. “We are con artists, but we are also victims.”