During a trip to Colorado recently, my Uber driver lauded the gig economy for providing flexible jobs. This African immigrant picked up a few riders before her shift at Amazon.com, and I was lucky enough to be one of them.
As she drove me to the airport, she told me about how much she loved ridesharing: meeting interesting new people, sharing her life experiences, making good pay.
She also enjoyed her job at Amazon.
The work is rigorous, but she didn’t mind.
She is able to keep food on her table and help others along the way.
Technology has delivered employment choices and flexibility for women like my Uber driver amidst the significant job losses they suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.
Right now, the labor market should be booming with women returning to the workplace and claiming the ample open opportunities. However, the steady flow of government aid has created an off-ramp from work. We need Washington to tighten the spigot of dollars, if we are ever to see a V-shaped labor force recovery for women, especially women of color.
Today, the overall unemployment rate for women over age 20 has fallen to 5.6% and white women to just 4.8%, but black women’s unemployment rate has only fallen to 8.6%.
The industries hardest hit by pandemic closures are those where black women are concentrated: service and retail. Whereas many other workers could move their jobs online, hotel workers and restaurant waitstaff were laid off.
Even in the healthcare industry, many women felt unsafe or their jobs were furloughed as only essential medical procedures were permitted.
On top of this, women took on a greater share of caregiving in their households.
School closures and virtual learning meant that women had to make difficult choices about working. Among Black households, 57% of children live with just one parent—often their mothers.
Childcare and forced homeschooling has been a significant challenge for black women.
The networks of grandparents and extended family that would usually be available for caregiving were inaccessible during the pandemic.
So much for “It Takes a Village.”
The economic picture for Black women could be worse if not for two factors: First, the economy is rebounding as evidenced by soaring job creation.
Over eight million jobs were unfilled in March. As Americans resume their spending habits, demand for workers is rising, forcing companies into a bidding war.
Second, flexible work has been a lifeline to enable women to work and stay attached to the labor force, which is critical to long-term earnings and success.
The hiring spree among gig economy companies and retailers over the past year has created jobs for women that can be scheduled around caregiving duties.
As my Uber driver told me, when workers were being laid off elsewhere, the Amazon warehouse welcomed hundreds—perhaps thousands—of new workers.
She was also able to pivot to food delivery when travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders grounded riders. Now, as more passengers use Uber again, she’s shifted back to ridesharing.
Even before the pandemic, women and mothers have been engaged in the sharing economy in significant ways. One in five ridesharing drivers is a woman and two out three have children.
But, as Mercatus researcher Liya Palgashvili explained, although men outnumber women in gig work or independent work, women dominate some platforms like the sellers market Etsy. Women, particularly minority women, are the nation’s fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs.
Women overwhelmingly choose flexibility. Whether they sell goods, deliver groceries, or shuttle passengers, there’s an app for that. Many ridesharing workers don’t want state (or federal) laws to disrupt their preferred flexible opportunities as a new survey finds.
If there are jobs and flexible work, why then are women not taking them? After hearing about her positive experiences, I asked my Uber driver how many family or friends work with her.
Surprisingly, she said they don’t want to work.
In fact, they are questioning why she is working at all.
The stimulus check, unemployment benefits, and federal unemployment bonus is paying them enough to remain unemployed.
Their plan is to return to work after benefits run out this fall.
Nationwide, employers are frustrated that they can’t return to full capacity because workers are scant. Various forms of government aid that should have been temporary and targeted are paying people to remain out of the labor force.
This July 15, Washington is set to send another check to 39 million households due to the temporary expansion of the child tax credit.
Families will receive $300 a month for each child under age 6 and $250 for each one ages 6 to 17 until the end of the year.
Getting women back to work will not only depend on schools and childcare centers reopening, but also Washington should not continue to incentivize them to stay out of the workforce.
Time out of the workforce can make it difficult to catch up professionally and build earnings potential for the long-run.
Opportunities are there for women, especially thanks to technology platforms, but well-intentioned public policy is working against the economic and labor rebound.
While the government may have been a help to workers at some point in the pandemic, it’s increasingly more of a hindrance that we must remove.