Published on November 17th, 2015 | by Sacramento Magazine
Sacramento’s “gig economy” reshaping services, jobs
What’s it like to make a living—or part of it, anyway—by piecing together work? Here in Sacramento, people are driving for Uber, renting out the spare bedroom through Airbnb or cleaning other people’s houses via an app called Handy. The one thing they have in common: They’re all part of the region’s growing gig economy.
Several nights a week, Scott Lipton sits in his 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid and waits for pings.
When the Sacramento Kings have a home game, he spends the first part of the evening with his wife and 3-year-old son at home in Natomas. Then, usually in the middle of the fourth quarter, he heads over to Sleep Train Arena, where he waits for someone to ping him on Uber for a ride. If he gets the timing right, he doesn’t have to wait long. After he drops off his first riders—midtown, downtown—he heads back and waits for another ping. “Most Kings games I get two or three quick rides,” he says. “That’s a decent night.”
On Friday nights, Lipton stays out of midtown until about 12:30 a.m.—“too many other Uber and Lyft drivers, too many short rides”—and instead researches local events so he can wait nearby. He’s been lucky: He’s never had anyone vomit in his car or felt threatened by any of his passengers. One of his more pleasant rides was also his longest: Just before Thanksgiving this past year, he picked up an older woman at the airport whose son had ordered an Uber ride for her. “She was really nice. I drove her up to the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa to meet her family. That’s been my single biggest fare so far—$120.”
Every time Lipton signs in to drive, he must accept Uber’s terms and conditions. Uber takes 20 percent of his fare receipts, but the amount varies by driver, with Uber taking up to 30 percent of some drivers’ fares.
When his consulting business was slow, before he got a full-time job with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Lipton drove 60 hours a week for Uber but said he didn’t make enough money to be tempted to continue driving full time. After basic expenses including gas, he made about $750 a week, but this was before paying taxes—income tax and a 15.3 percent self-employment tax because he’s an independent contractor. Now that he is working full time, he drives a few evenings a week and on weekends to make extra money. “I don’t think Uber’s policies are conducive to full-time employment,” he says.
In Sacramento, driving for Uber and Lyft are just two of the local “gig” opportunities. People also clean houses with Handy, rent out their cars on RelayRides, offer rooms or houses for rent on Airbnb, babysit someone’s kids through UrbanSitter, or deliver food and sundry goods with Postmates. But despite the convenience for people using the services, whether the gig economy will be good in the long run is under debate.
What is the gig economy?
If you’ve never heard the term “gig economy,” you are not alone. Many people who make their living this way have never heard of it, either.
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