Hurricanes Can Hurt the Gig Economy — But They Also Offer Opportunities
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Unless you actually live under a rock or have zero access to TV or the internet (and I mean, I’m calling your bluff because you’re reading this right now), you already know that two major hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, ripped through the southern states over the last couple of weeks, leaving widespread flooding, dangerous conditions and serious damage in their wakes.
But what you might not have heard yet is that these two hurricanes caused an estimated $290 billion in losses.
Two! Hundred! Ninety! Billion!
That figure is the estimated total of all costs associated with the storms, including property damages, increased fuel prices, crop loss (those Florida oranges), transportation and infrastructure damage, disruption to businesses and periods of unemployment that could stretch on for months.
While a lot of salaried, full-time and even some part-time employees are given PTO, extended grace periods and the promise of a job waiting for them when they return, that’s not the case for every worker.
And that’s due, in large part, to the rise of the gig economy.
The Unforgiving Gig Economy
The gig economy is now estimated to make up about 34% of the workforce. That means one in three workers in the U.S. collects all or part of their income from some form of self-employment: freelancing, contract work or internet platform-based gig work.
And that means that one in three workers affected by the hurricanes is responsible for keeping their own cash flow going while dealing with any travel, home repairs, power loss, medical needs, caregiving and clean up — along with so many other attention-demanding tasks — that come with a natural disaster.
Unfortunately, dealing with these issues can get pretty costly, and the financial strain is only compounded when a person is unable to work due to the severe weather — whether that work requires electricity, Wi-Fi, open stores or restaurants, clear roads or simply customers who are still in the area.
Weather the Storm as a Gig Worker
Thankfully, a member of the gig economy can use their status as an independent worker to boost their earnings before and after a hurricane or other natural disaster. These steps can help cushion the blow of being out of work for a while.
(Note: We’re by no means encouraging anyone to work during unsafe conditions! Be practical and assess the level of damage in your area before deciding whether offering your services for hire is the right move. Please use your smarts, help your neighbors when you can and stay safe.)
Before and after the storm, use a platform like TaskRabbit to see if anyone is looking to hire someone to help with “around the house” tasks like picking up loose debris, boarding up windows, hauling branches or making a run to the dump.
Over the next several months, there should be a lot of odd jobs you can pick up as people seek to repair some of the damage the storms caused.
You could also sign up to be a Shipt shopper and help deliver the last-minute grocery orders people will place before the storm arrives (and possibly after, although grocery stores in Florida have been slim pickin’s these days). Just be prepared to haul a lot of canned goods and bottled water!
During a prolonged power outage, a lot of schools will be closed — but parents will still have to head back to the office. Consider signing up for a site like Care.com, where parents may go searching for some last minute help.
You may have to get creative as you look for opportunities to continue earning a living in a very strange financial landscape. Think outside the box and remember that the gig economy is all about seeing a need and filling it before your competitors do the same. There will be plenty of people who will want to hire an extra set of hands over the coming months, so be open to opportunities and you’ll start to recoup those losses.
Finally, don’t forget that if you’re struggling to keep up with payments and bills, several companies are offering to nix and delay fees, overage penalties and even student loan payments in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Harvey.
(And if you’re still strapped for cash as the craziness of hurricane season comes to a close, consider trying these 50 ways to make extra money on the side.)
Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s pretty ready for hurricane season to be over so that sunny Florida can get back to doing what it does best: being sunny.