Is a gig economy job right for you?

Is a gig economy job right for you?

The American Law Journal


Ronald West starts his day at 3 a.m., picking up passengers who are trying to catch early morning flights from Chicago’s downtown to its two busy, international airports. Around 6:30 a.m., the former retail salesman turned Uber driver, takes a break to avoid the frustrations of the morning rush hour traffic.

At 8:30 a.m., West resumes his day, shuttling passengers across the Second City and its suburbs until 3:00 p.m. West loves his work, and at the beginning of this year, turned down what many people would call a “good job”— medical benefits and a retirement package included—for the freedom and independence that the fast-growing “gig economy” offers.

Gigs, freelance projects, short-term assignments, on-demand jobs, or single task opportunities have been around for ages. The difference today is that technology is allowing people who need a service to quickly and easily connect with someone who wants to deliver it. Apps from companies such as Uber, Instacart, TaskRabbit, and Dogvacay, have given birth a whole new way of finding work that has its pros and its cons, depending on what you want out of work and life.

“The mindset of someone who wants to have a gig economy job has to be the belief that success comes from within,” says West whose gig is his full-time job. “Most people want a guaranteed job, but I want to guarantee my success by knowing that if I go out and do the work, the income will come in. I have to pay my bills like everyone else, but I also want time to do things that I enjoy by having the flexibility this work allows.”

West, who is a spoken word performer most weekends, opted to give a gig job a try because the job he had and the ones he was researching didn’t allow the kind of time he needed for practicing, writing, and lending support to fellow partners in rhyme, all of whom are committed to following their passion.

Pros and cons

Freedom, flexibility, and independence are the big plusses often cited by those taking advantage of a gig economy job. But other folks see some big drawbacks, even West recognizes. “There’s no medical insurance or retirement plan,” notes West, who is single with no kids, “so you will have to do some homework to find affordable and adequate health insurance, and you’ll want to talk to an accountant to make sure you’re taking care of your taxes and putting something away for retirement. But if you’re willing to take a calculated risk and step out on faith, a gig economy job could work for you.”

A TIME article reports that 55 percent of Americans who offer services from a gig economy platform are racial and ethnic minorities. It’s a whole new frontier of immediate income opportunities that many say has to be balanced against long-term career goals.

Before deciding to take a gig economy job, you’ll want to ask yourself:

  • Can I deal with an inconsistent income? There might be high and low-income months and you’ll need to develop a budget that accounts for irregular income.
  • Am I a people person? You might be called on to engage with a wide variety of people and provide them with a customer experience that they’ll want you or others to provide again.
  • Am I self-motivated? No one will be telling you what to do, how many hours to work or setting deadlines; but you still need to set a work schedule for yourself and stick to it.
  • Do I like administrative tasks? If not, accounting, project, and time management apps can take some of the clerical work out of your day so that you can spend more time on the core activity of your work and life, knowing that important financial and administrative details are being taken care of.
  • What service do I want offer? The range of services being offered via gig economy platforms is growing by the minute. You’ll want to research several companies to determine what their services are; if you have the skills and tools—such as a car—to do the work; and whether this is a service you’d like to provide.
  • What’s my long-term goal? If the service you provide can be a stepping-stone or provide experience for what you want to do in the future, a gig economy job might be right for you. It may also be a good place to start if you’re not sure what you want to do and you want to test out a few options. In either case, you’ll want to take some time to think about where you want to go and how this gig will help you get there.

“I love offering transportation services,” says West. “And sometimes, if my passengers are open to it, I’ll try out a few of my spoken word lyrics on them. Being able to bring all of who I am to all I do is what I believe life and work is about.”

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Someone Else’s Children

Someone Else’s Children

My husband and I have three adopted children. Three boys. They call each other brothers of another mother. They’re cool with that and so am I. Unfortunately, precious few Christian African American women would agree with my views on adoption.

As a young, married woman 19 years ago, I didn’t have a positive attitude about adoption. Frankly, adoption was the furthest thing from my mind. Both my husband and I were in school full time, working like Hebrew slaves on advanced engineering degrees. Between the two of us we made $18,000 a year in stipends. I thank God for those years (and for that small vegetable patch). Those lean times taught me how to wait on God.

Growing up in the swamplands of North Carolina, I played with trucks and climbed trees. Doll babies and tea sets were never on my gift wish list. After a few years of marriage that changed. It happened one sunny afternoon while I babysat for a college friend. That precious little toddler stole my heart with her sparkling brown eyes and chubby hands. When her mother picked her up two hours later, our one-bedroom apartment never felt so empty.

I soon graduated and tried to replace the longing for a child with a full-time job, volunteering at an urban ministry, church involvement, and writing. But the longing persisted. My husband was still in grad school but he agreed that it was time to start a family. I was 29. One and a half years later and no baby, I hit a wall. I started each day in tears, crying in the darkness of my walk-in closet before work. The crying lasted for months. On the outside, I was doing good things in my church and community racial reconciliation ministry. I was a faithful wife. I was a productive engineer.

On the inside, I was dying. Longing for a child.



At church, someone suggested we consider adoption. I was tired of all the doctor’s visits, the treatments, basal thermometers, and the prayers to God. I wanted relief. I wanted to feel good again, to feel God again. Adoption seemed like a good option.

We did our research. We talked with counselors and social workers. We talked with our friends and parents. We prayed and fasted. We had so many questions about the process, the costs, but especially the kids: What if they’re not black (or black enough)? What if they’re developmentally challenged? What if they’re violent? What if they’re crack babies?

God answered all those questions with peace. As Psalm 34:4 says: I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Along the way my husband and I have met some really wonderful adoptive parents. One couple, Becky and Joe, became part of our family. Our first meeting, though, was a tough one. It was on a Saturday morning in 1997, the year I was struggling with the specter of infertility. As long-time volunteers in an urban ministry, my husband and I were attending a racial reconciliation training conference.

The conference had my full attention until I spotted a white woman holding a beautiful dark-skinned baby across the room. Out of my fragile heart I thought: How could she have my baby? Before long I was wiping tears from my face, crying over the baby my husband and I could have adopted. If we only had money like that white woman.

That white woman was Becky. We were introduced later that day. To my surprise, she was the baby’s foster mother. She and Joe had committed themselves to care and advocate for children “caught in the system.” Over the 15-plus years they were foster parents, Joe and Becky fostered more than 30 children — mostly African American and biracial infants.

This older white Christian couple from the Midwest lived out the ministry of reconciliation described in the Bible. They showed me what sensitivity meant when they learned to properly care for the hair and skin of the little black children under their roof. They demonstrated empowerment and interdependence to me when they intentionality included African American mentors in their lives.

And later, when they adopted two of the brown-skinned children, I supported them, knowing that their heart was centered on seeking God’s will. They didn’t act out of pity for the poor. Their hearts were not shaded with the rosiness of “Love is enough” and “There is no color in God.” It is inspiring to see how my white Christian sister and brother lean on Jesus to help them navigate the treacherous waters of raising black children in America.

Bottom line: Adopting is not an easy fix. For me, becoming the mom of three brothers of other mothers was very difficult. In fact, in the beginning, it was like pulling a scab from a wound I thought had healed. But today I have three boys. Not three rejects or three unwanted children. I have three sons. Some people call them someone else’s children. I call them mine.

The Boomerang Generation

The Boomerang Generation

OCCUPYING MAMA’S HOUSE: “There is the fear that if a young adult is still living at home, he or she is not reaching his or her fullest potential,” says one expert. “The idea of leaving home after college may be an antiquated idea.”

There’s a fine line that parents must carefully tread as they rear their children and prepare them for adulthood. Even as they seek to empower their kids for independence, parents must constantly combat the tension of nature vs. nurture. They only have “ownership” of their kids for a relatively brief period, after all. But at what point do parents officially cut the umbilical cord, trust that they reared productive members of society, and release them out into the world?

Is 18 the age when one’s considered grown? If you’re old enough to drive, vote, and serve in the military, shouldn’t you also be gone from your mama and daddy’s house?

“Everyone’s different and we do our children an injustice when we send them out without preparation,” says Charlotte Stallings, a Houston-based financial expert and president/CEO of Getting Smart! LLC.

Charlotte Stallings

With the job market flooded with college graduates competing with those who possess more work experience, Stallings says the boomerang effect is common in all communities in lieu of the state of the economy. “People aren’t making enough to make ends meet, so short-term adjustments are taking place,” she adds. “I lived at home while I attended college and stayed at home after graduation for several years because it was cheaper. But my experience taught me how to hustle, to be resourceful, and to appreciate being in school as I took copious notes in class and studied on the bus commuting to and from school.”

Twenty years later, the Minneapolis native focuses on teaching others how to save money and create wealth. She encourages parents to introduce basic financial concepts to their kids at an early age. “Make the conversation about money a part of everyday life, weave it into dialogue and do so starting at an early age,” Stallings says. “Use positive and realistic tones about it and teach by being a positive example.”

Equipping Them While They’re Young

Marita Kinney

Marita Kinney, a Dayton, Ohio-based life coach and motivational speaker, says some parents feel once children reach 18, they have learned everything they need to know and are equipped to handle all the demands of life, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if they are prepared.

“The problems arrive not because of the lack of parenting at 18 years old, but because of a lack of parenting and guidance while they were still children,” Kinney adds. “I believe parents in the black community can be at a disadvantage because some may lack the knowledge to properly prepare their children for the future.”

Stallings believes some parents don’t teach their children about finances because a lack of knowledge about them, in addition to a lack of communication between the parents as well as between the parents and their children.

Isaac Paul Austin III

“It can be an issue because today many children who have children now aren’t prepared to have them and are in a rush to complete something,” says Isaac Paul Austin III, a vocational trainer at the Haymarket Center in Chicago. “They’re not looking at a child as a joy but as an obligation. Some see parenting as a business transaction and the children are financial liabilities. People are divorcing results from effort, and the romanticized view of life we have pollutes every facet of our lives.”

On her own at the age 18, Kinney says she moved to the other side of the country and visited home twice a year, which differs from the experiences of some of her friends and some children today.

“My preparation started earlier in life because I worked in our family business and learned to save to get the things I really wanted,” she adds. “I had friends that had very little responsibility and had never worked, so in the long run, I was prepared for life. My mother always told me that she wouldn’t always be around, so she needed to know I could stand on my own two feet and take care of myself. My husband and I have six children and we’re preparing them to become upstanding, self-sufficient adults as well.”

Stallings says children leaving the house at age 18 isn’t necessarily a bad thing and depends on the family. She adds it’s perfectly fine for parents to help their young-adult children, but not at the expense of them learning self-sufficiency, which happens in some cases.

“I know a couple with two children who downsized their home after both of the children went off to college, put a ‘For Sale’ sign in their yard, and moved into a townhouse,” Stallings says. “I also know a parent who prepared her son to leave her house at 18. He had a car, she saved money for her child and prepared him for years. Her mother did the same for her and gave her $500, which was less than what she said she gave her son. In both family situations, the parents prepared their children for what was to come.”

18 or Bust?

Candice Norcott

Candice Norcott, Ph.D., a psychologist and center manager for the Isaac Ray Center, Inc. at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, says she grew up in a home where not attending college wasn’t an option.

“There is the fear that if a young-adult child is still living at home, he or she is not reaching his or her fullest potential,” she says. “The idea of leaving home after college may be an antiquated idea of a developmental milestone in a person’s life.”

As she works primarily with women, family issues, and trauma, Norcott says the question in this situation is less of being at home at age 18, but more about why would someone want to be living at home at that age or older.

Ultimately, both parent and child need to be realistic about their expectations and desires. For every family, the transition process will be different — some kids will leave the nest permanently when they take off for college, others may need extra time to find their bearings. But the most important thing is that each family have a plan for moving the process forward.

“With my peers, there was always a desire to pursue higher education, go out on our own, and to be adults as soon as possible.” Austin says. “We craved more responsibility. However, to expect someone to be fully developed at age 18 is a little unrealistic, and even can be destructive. We don’t want to coddle them, but there needs to be a balance.”

Less Ball, More Education

Less Ball, More Education

Growing up in Atlanta the emphasis in my home and church community, outside of a relationship with the God, was education. In fact, since slavery the black community has valued education as the means of economic empowerment and political liberation. Education is so powerful that slaves were forbidden to learn how to read and write for hundreds of years in this country. Many of us had parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles drill these words into our heads: “get an education.” Sadly, many black communities have been sabotaged with the deception of short-term gratification so that the empowerment brought through education is no longer valued. In the place of education has emerged an emphasis on entertainment and sports as the primary means of upward social mobility that many find troubling. In particular, an overemphasis on sports has dire consequences for black males.

In 2010, Dr. Krystal Beamon, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Arlington, wrote a fascinating article explaining the phenomena of black males being herded into sports. In “Are Sports Overemphasized in the Socialization Process of African American Males?,” Dr. Beamon explains that there has been elevated levels of sports socialization in the family, neighborhood, and media in the black community creating an overrepresentation of black males in certain sports. One of the results of this overemphasis, according to Beamon, is that black males may face consequences that are distinctly different from those who are not socialized as intensively toward athletics, such as lower levels of academic achievement, higher expectations for professional sports careers as a means to upward mobility, and lower levels of career maturity. In other words, the sports emphasis is putting black males at a disadvantage later on in the marketplace.

Much research has demonstrated that, compared to their white counterparts, black males are socialized by family and community members deliberately into sports, limiting their exposure to other hobbies, like reading, and to non-sports related role models early in life. In some families, for example, parents are more interested in basketball practice than homework completion or good grades. The overemphasis also continues to feed stereotypes about black men as athletes, and these stereotypes are exacerbated as the mass media limits projections of black males as working in professional, non-athletic, or non-entertainment vocations.

A recent NCAA study reports that high school athletes have a 0.03 percent chance of playing in the NBA and a 0.08 percent change of playing in the NFL. With these odds, many black males are being inadvertently sabotaged if their families and communities socialize them into sports as a way to become successful and escape poverty in the absence of forming them morally and educationally.

What is needed are new role models and peers that reinforce the virtues that form and shape character and equip young men to be successful in the marketplace, whether they play sports or not. If black males are to be protected from the sabotage of hopelessness, the pursuit of accelerated upward mobility, materialism, and so on, individual Christians have to get more involved in the lives of black youth to nurture a broader imagination for the purpose of one’s life beyond being famous, making money, and achieving physical prowess.

If education is not emphasized as the means of success, if learning is not celebrated, if the exploration of multiple hobbies and opportunities are not encouraged, we may be inadvertently setting a trap for self-destruction, because the consequences of not being prepared to participate in the global marketplace are serious.

Photo illustration by Mike O’Dowd.