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How independent contracting has changed with COVID-19 – a New Yorker’s story

Like the rest of the world, the U.S is also fighting the battle against COVID-19. Over the past few weeks, the world saw the U.S make some tough, but necessary decisions. Many parts of the country are under lockdown and people are feeling a sense of panic. There is a lot of chaos and confusion about what will happen now. While the whole country has been affected by the virus, some cities have been hit harder than others- especially economically. One of the most severely impacted cities is New York City. The city that never sleeps is now under lockdown.

COVID-19 New York City
Source: Frank Olito/ Insider

Times Square that is usually full of life and vibrancy is now vacant. Fear, shock, and uncertainty are lingering in the air. Amidst all this chaos, Appjobs reached out to an independent contractor in New York City to understand what the situation looks like for the gig community there. We interviewed Robert (name changed to protect the privacy of the individual), a freelancer who lives in New York City. Robert has a full-time job, but he works gig jobs on the side for extra income. However, gig jobs are pivotal in helping Robert stay financially afloat.

“The coronavirus outbreak has restricted the amount of gigs I can do. I used to work a lot with TaskRabbit, but since many are non-essential jobs now as they require physical proximity, I had no choice but to look for other gigs.”

Robert told us that he had been working a lot of different gig jobs since he began quite some time ago. He usually finds most gigs on platforms like Fiverr and TaskRabbit. However, this pandemic means that there are a lot of restrictions on which gigs he can now work. He told us that he can no longer work gigs that required physical interactions with the public due to state regulations that have discouraged these types of gigs. Most of the gigs that Robert used to work are now classified as ‘non-essential jobs’. The only gig jobs that are still operating as usual are driving and delivery jobs; the state qualifies these as ‘essential jobs’. A large proportion of the gig jobs that Robert used to work involved interacting with people, but that has all changed now.

“I am fortunate enough to still find gigs I can do online, but I know that not everyone is as lucky as me. The worst part about all of this is the uncertainty, no one knows what’s going to happen next and how long this period will last.”

As he can no longer work those jobs, Robert had to find new solutions. He has now focused his attention on finding gigs he can work online, using other platforms like Fiverr. He has been fortunate enough to find online gigs, where he has been doing a multitude of different activities including testing sites, improving user experience, and leading online fitness classes; but things are still not the same as they used to be with gig jobs.

Coronovirus gig economy New York City
Source: Rhododendrites / CC BY-SA

When we asked Robert about the current financial situation, he responded by saying that he isn’t doing all that bad. He is grateful for having savings as they are helping him navigate the uncertainty of the current economic circumstances. However, Robert did mention that not everyone is as fortunate as he is. There still are freelancers that are struggling both financially and mentally. The fear of not knowing what will happen when normality is restored is putting a lot of pressure on independent contractors.

Gig companies do not provide direct assistance to independent contractors, they encourage us to seek assistance from the government instead. Even then, I am doubtful that it will be a smooth process for freelancers and independent contractors like myself to get access to financial aid.”

The Federal Government of the United States made history when it passed the CARES Act a few weeks ago- a one of a kind bill allows freelancers and independent contractors to receive unemployment benefits. However, freelancers haven’t currently received any kind of monetary assistance from the government. Robert explained that though the law has been passed, it will take some time for people to actually start receiving payments. He says that the State Governments are just beginning to lay out a plan for how they will distribute payments for independent contractors. He believes that freelancers and independent contractors will still have a delay before they receive any sort of financial aid from the government.

“The gigs that we know today will change when we get back to normal. This is the kind of environment where smart people will create new businesses, and will find a way to create the next big business where freelancers will have a role to play. It will just be different than the role they’ve played before.”

Robert thinks that when things get back to normal, a lot of the popular gigs will no longer be available. New gig jobs and opportunities will enter the market and people will have to learn new skills to adapt to these changes. Robert doesn’t think that gigs that he used to do will make a comeback so he’s building new skills and is being open to more gig opportunities. He further told us that he has been working as an independent contractor since the 2008 recession. He finds it ironic that the companies that were formed due to the 2008 recession are now not fighting harder to support the gig community.

“I have been working as an independent contractor since the 2008 recession. I find it ironic that the companies that were founded as a result of the 2008 recession are now not fighting harder to support the gig community.”

Back in 2008, Robert was working as an independent contractor for a company and says that the company wouldn’t have existed if the recession didn’t happen. Uncertainty and fear accompanied Robert’s words when he spoke of the future. He said that it’s going to be a new world when we go back to normal, and the effects of this pandemic will wear off rather slowly and painfully.

Robert says that finding gigs online these days is difficult mainly because of two reasons. The first being the competition and the second being the payout. Since people are being laid off, more and more of them are now heading towards the freelancing online world which makes it difficult to find a gig. Moreover, if you do manage to find a compatible gig, the prices aren’t justifiable.

“The government will eventually figure out how to handle situations like these. You will eventually get your money from the state once they figure out themselves how to do it. I’m still optimistic about the future because all these gig companies like Uber and TaskRabbit were formed in the 2008 recession.”

Has your job been affected by COVID-19? Visit our support center to learn more about what help is available to you during these times to stabilize your future.

Read more stories of the gig workers affected by COVID-19

Ela Battal is the Content Manager at Appjobs. She is a graduate of Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle and specializes in academic research and development.