Millions Of Gig Workers Rely On A New Federal Lifeline. They Now Fear It Will End

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Millions of gig workers have come to depend on a government lifeline that’s set to expire at the end of the year. Above, a man wearing a face mask walks past a sign saying «now hiring» on May 14 in Arlington, Va.

Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

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Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Self-Employed And Gig Workers Face Long Waits For Coronavirus Relief Checks

In March, Congress quickly stitched together a new safety net program, modeled on the kind of help the government usually provides after a natural disaster.

«It’s designed not just to help gig economy workers or the self-employed,» says former Treasury Department official Ernie Tedeschi. «It’s also designed to help people who had spotty work history that wouldn’t have qualified for regular unemployment insurance.»

That turns out to be a lot of people. According to the Labor Department’s tally, more than 15 million people were collecting benefits under the new program by late August. That’s more than were collecting regular unemployment benefits.

«Number one, that tells me that too few people qualify for regular unemployment insurance,» says Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for workers. «We actually probably do need a system that’s responsive to the changing nature of the workforce.»

Evermore cautions that the Labor Department figure probably overstates the number of people getting help from the new program. There have been persistent reporting problems. And because the program requires less documentation than regular unemployment insurance, it has been a target for fraud.

«There’s this international fraud ring that has been attacking unemployment insurance systems,» Evermore says. «They’ve just systemically been going state by state. Once the state system figures out how to identify them and kick them out, they move on to another state.»

‘We Can’t Take Your Call’: Uber Drivers, Other Gig Workers Struggle For Unemployment

Tedeschi, who’s now with the investment research firm Evercore ISI, estimates that the real number of people receiving benefits from the program is between 6 million and 10 million. That’s still a lot of people who would have gotten nothing from the traditional unemployment system.

«When this crisis is over, we need to take a good, hard look at how regular state unemployment insurance is structured and at the very least update it for the realities of a workforce that is substantially gig economy and self-employed,» Tedeschi says.

Jobs In The Pandemic: More Are Freelance And May Stay That Way Forever

Gig workers, like those who lost jobs during the pandemic, have already seen their benefits reduced. At the end of July, Snyder went from receiving $775 a week to just $175.

What’s more, unless Congress acts to extend it, this big new program is set to expire altogether at the end of this year.

«What’s going to happen this winter?» Snyder wonders. «I feel like a squirrel burying nuts. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to work the way I used to work, if I’ll ever be able to go back to the way I used to work.»

  • US econom
  • gig workers
  • coronavirus
  • Unemployment


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