It’s no surprise that women suffered significant employment losses during the pandemic. They are concentrated in industries that were shut down by mandated lockdowns and restrictions: food and dining, travel, and hospitality. 

As bad as the significant labor losses have been for women, they could have been worse had it not been for the gig economy and independent contracting opportunities. That’s all the more reason why Congress cannot pass legislation that would effectively eliminate independent contract work nationwide.

The losses

Take a look at the numbers on the stunning economic losses women suffered because of the pandemic:

  • 2.5 million women lost their jobs in the past year
  • Women suffered up to 54 percent of pandemic job losses by September. 
  • 275,000 women dropped out of the labor force in January compared to just 71,000 men.
  • 80 percent of U.S. adults who gave up looking for work were women.

Gig Work Exploded

According to new data reported by CBS News, the number of female delivery drivers on Uber’s delivery platform, UberEats, more than doubled between April 2020 and January 2021. They now reportedly comprise half of all delivery drivers.

At DoorDash, nearly 2 million users reportedly joined the platform in the first 6.5 months of the pandemic. Over half (55 percent) of the drivers are women.

Within the first month of the pandemic, Instacart hired 300,000 workers and now has about half a million shoppers. Seven out of ten of these shoppers are women. 

Amazon hired about 500,000 people in 2020 in warehousing, distribution, and delivery. The Flex program offers workers the chance to use their own vehicles to make deliveries. Perhaps as many as 500,000 people participate in this program. Nearly half (45 percent) of the Amazon workforce is female.

Independent contracting makes these models of business possible. The drivers and shoppers are not company employees, but freelancers who work on their own schedules.

Working in remote areas, suburbs, and cities, women are able to work around other priorities such as virtual learning for their kids at home, caring for a sick parent, or managing their own health issues. 

In some cases, these gig jobs are the few opportunities available.

Now is not the time to kill flexible jobs

With unemployment still high, now is not the time to kill flexible work, especially for women. That may be the outcome of federal legislation supported by lawmakers on the left and the Biden White House.

Congress is expected to consider the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO Act), a measure to expand union participation by scaling back the rights of workers who do not support unions and to force more workers into unionizable jobs.

One of the key aspects of the PRO Act is that it would establish a national standard to determine if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The new standard would be so stringent that most of the nation’s 57 million freelancers would be reclassified as employees of the companies that they currently contract for, including ridesharing and delivery drivers.

Employees must be paid benefits and mandated compensation such as healthcare and overtime pay. Independent contractors do not receive any benefits beyond the pay they negotiate, but they are willing to make that tradeoff in exchange for flexibility and the ability to work on their schedules.

Many of America’s companies would not be able to afford to hire their independent contractors as full employees and will likely lay them off. Removing the independent contractor model would upend gig economy companies entirely and put them out of business.

If you’re an avid reader of our blog, this may sound familiar. This is what happened when California passed Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). (Read the real-life stories of individuals who lost significant incomes, contracts, and jobs because of AB5.)

If Congress passes the PRO Act, it will nationalize the hardship that California inflicted on independent contractors.

We need as many flexible opportunities for women as possible, any efforts to kill those jobs should be rejected.