The streets are largely empty of traffic these days, save for the scores of delivery trucks dropping food and essential products on our doorsteps. It sounds like a scene from a sci-fi movie, but it's actually a day-to-day reality in the age of the coronavirus.
While most of the economy is struggling, the delivery business is booming. Stores not accustomed to handling their own deliveries are trying to get a footing in the space. Meanwhile, gig economy apps like DoorDash, Uber Eats and Instacart are benefiting from the circumstances and signing up thousands of workers to fulfill the skyrocketing demand for food delivery.
Tens of millions of U.S. workers who were given pink slips in the restaurant and retail sectors are well-equipped to work in this part of the gig economy, and many are investigating the opportunity to earn since the barrier to entry is super low: All you need is a smartphone, a flexible schedule and, in most cases, a car. Then, just download an app, fill out a brief form, and you're ready to start getting gigs.
This surge in the need for workers comes at a transitional period for the gig economy as states grapple with how to regulate this emerging sector. A new bill in California, for example, will turn many gig economy contractors into employees who have access to minimum wage, sick leave, worker's compensation and unemployment benefits.
Below, we look at how the California bill could affect your earnings potential, as well as the pros and cons of the gig economy.
The pros and cons of the gig economy
A new law governing the gig economy went into effect in California on Jan. 1, 2020. Known as AB5, the law is seen as a potential harbinger of what's to come across the country as other states weigh similar legislation.
The law is well-intentioned. Historically, gig economy workers have been classified as independent contractors or freelancers, not employees, depriving them of labor protections like overtime, minimum wage and workers compensation. The bill extends such benefits to millions of Californians.
To determine whether a gig economy worker is an employee, California is using the "ABC test." According to this method, you are an employee and not an independent contractor unless you meet all three of the following conditions:
- The worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact;
- The worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity's business; and
- The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.
The upside of the new law is clear: Millions of Americans will start receiving important workplace protections. The downside is that when contractors become full-time employees they're giving up the flexibility that drew some of them to gig work in the first place. With the company footing the cost of benefits, they will exert control over the number of hours, schedule and other factors that go into your work. Additionally, shortly after the law passed, some companies parted ways with their freelancers to avoid incurring the costs of benefits and workplace protections.
As it stands, in most states, gig workers are still contractors. The upsides to this arrangement are the following factors:
- Schedule flexibility. You can work as much or as little as you want.
- Work variety. You're free to work for multiple apps. If you aren't getting enough hours through DoorDash, you can pick up some more on Uber Eats.
- Total independence. Unlike full-time employees, whose schedules and workload are set by their employers, you can decide your own workload, schedule and style without a boss breathing down your neck.
However, not everything is rosy in the gig economy world. Here are a few potential downsides to consider before you become a delivery driver:
- No benefits. Contractors don't receive employee benefits, and paying for your own healthcare, retirement savings and vacation time will get expensive fast.
- You have to use your own belongings. Read your auto insurance policy closely. Chances are you will have to upgrade to a commercial- or business-use policy and notify your insurance provider that you're driving for an app. Even with insurance, the wear and tear of taking groceries in and out of your car is something to consider.
- Quarterly taxes. Self-employed workers are required to pay taxes on a quarterly basis, which means setting aside money and submitting payment by the designated dates.
- Isolation. This may be a benefit in the time of COVID-19, but at other times, some people find remote, freelance work isolating. They miss the socializing and comradery that comes from working alongside others.
How to apply for a gig economy delivery job
If you worked at a restaurant or a retail store, you will definitely qualify for a job as a delivery driver or in-store shopper. These apps aren't selective — they're hiring anyone who meets the following requirements (which differ slightly between services):
- Be at least 18
- Able to lift a certain amount of weight (usually 30 or 40 pounds)
- Pass a background check
- Have a smartphone
Additionally, drivers will need:
- Access to a car
- A valid driver's license
- Auto insurance
What jobs in this sector entail
Generally, your opportunities will differ based on whether you have a car.
If you have a car:
Virtually everyone is seeking delivery drivers right now. To qualify, you'll need a valid driver's license, auto insurance coverage and access to a car. In some cities, a scooter or bicycle may suffice.
Drivers will be responsible for picking up and delivering orders from restaurants, grocery stores and other essential businesses. Food delivery apps, such as Uber Eats, will task you with picking up and delivering orders. With grocery or product delivery apps, however, you may be responsible for shopping for the customer's order as well.
The best thing about gig work is that you call the shots. As an independent contractor, you can work as much or as little as you'd like, and on your own schedule. That said, certain hours will be more lucrative than others. Shipt (Target's delivery app), for instance, prioritizes drivers who have availability on Sundays and Mondays, their busiest shopping day.
It's very easy to sign up. You can sign up entirely through the app — no in-person interview required. You'll want to have your driver's license and social security number number on hand before you apply. In most cases, once you pass a background check, you'll be ready to roll.
If you don't have a car:
If you don't own a car, there's still plenty of opportunity. You could work as an in-store shopper who prepares orders for pick-up or delivery. Grocery delivery apps and some grocery stores themselves offer such options.
Unlike the full-service shoppers who also make deliveries, in-store shoppers will receive support and instructions from a supervisor, making work feel more like a job than a gig. You have a weekly schedule based on your availability, and you're paid at the end of each week. Finally, you're eligible for any part-time benefits the service offers, such as a 401(k) account and opportunities to further your career.
While the structure and support system are nice, there are downsides. You may have to attend an in-person interview and training as well as stick to a schedule. The hiring process is fast, but not quite as fast as it is for delivery drivers.
How to apply for a job
Unlike working for UPS, FedEx or a restaurant, gig economy delivery jobs are mediated entirely through an app. You can't simply drop in to fill out an application in a store like you would at Domino's or Pizza Hut, so you'll need a base-level understanding of technology.
Signing up is simple. The process looks like this, with slight variation between apps:
- Download the app.
- Create an account.
- Answer a series of questions.
- Review available jobs.
The delivery business is booming. You won't have any trouble finding a job. Here's a list of the key players urgently looking for workers. Additionally, search online to see if there are similar services in your state not included in the list below.
- Instacart (bringing on board more than 300,000 new workers)
- Uber Eats
- Amazon Flex
- Shipt Shopper
- Favor (Texas only)
Are there similar jobs available?
If gig economy work doesn't suit you, there are plenty of restaurants and stores hiring part- and full-time employees. Domino's, Pizza Hut and others are urgently hiring drivers, cooks, customer service reps and managers as they alter operations to cope with the coronavirus outbreak. Similarly, grocery stores like Whole Foods and Kroger are expanding their in-store shopping and delivery capacity.
The following restaurants are actively looking for delivery drivers:
The following grocery stores and pharmacies are actively looking for in-store shoppers and/or delivery drivers:
You can apply to any of these jobs either in-person or through the employer's digital job portal. Either way, you should update your resume before you begin the application process. And, writing a simple cover letter could come in handy, as well.