The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death

Jia Tolentino, writing in the New Yorker:

Last September, a very twenty-first-century type of story appeared on the company blog of the ride-sharing app Lyft. “Long-time Lyft driver and mentor, Mary, was nine months pregnant when she picked up a passenger the night of July 21st,” the post began. “About a week away from her due date, Mary decided to drive for a few hours after a day of mentoring.” You can guess what happened next.


Mary’s story looks different to different people. Within the ghoulishly cheerful Lyft public-relations machinery, Mary is an exemplar of hard work and dedication — the latter being, perhaps, hard to come by in a company that refuses to classify its drivers as employees. Mary’s entrepreneurial spirit — taking ride requests while she was in labor! — is an “exciting” example of how seamless and flexible app-based employment can be. Look at that hustle! You can make a quick buck with Lyft anytime, even when your cervix is dilating.

There is a very real and largely-unaddressed human cost behind the convenience offered by startups like Lyft, Uber, and Fiverr. “Gig economy” jobs are a uniquely new way of blending the anxiety of freelance work with the pay of a minimum-wage job — and sometimes, well below that. This is not fair to those participating in these jobs today, nor is it an effective long-term economic backbone.