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.”
Opening night of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum will be a multi-cultural affair. Not only is ex-Democratic Congressman and former Obama supporter Artur Davis speaking, but so are South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and first lady of Puerto Rico, Luce’ Vela Fortuno. Mike Huckabee and Ann Romney are also on the agenda and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez will offer the benediction.
If you can’t be there, don’t worry, because the Republicans have organized their grand party as a “convention without walls.” Monday night’s theme will be “We Can Do Better,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus announced August 20. “Americans know we can do better than joblessness, poverty and debt,” said Priebus. “This convention will present our vision for a brighter, better future and it will lay out an optimistic, achievable plan to make it happen.” Given what seems like an obvious attempt to put a multi-racial face on the mostly White party, we’re wondering what Republicans will offer voters of color on the issues that matter to them most. Here are a few possibilities:
In the seven swing states of Nevada, Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia and Iowa, “jobless rates all rose or were flat in July,” Reuters reported. “A majority of Americans view the economy as the most important issue facing the country, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.” Check out our interview with Romney’s senior communications adviser Tara Wall for what she says her boss will do to address these economic concerns.
With Romney’s choice of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, Ryan’s “signature legislative proposal, the Path to Prosperity, has been widely criticized for its reduction of taxes for corporations and wealthy Americans — while deeply cutting social welfare programs,” The Root reported. “The Paul Ryan budgeteffectively destroys Medicare by turning it into a voucher program; slashes funding to Medicaid, which serves single mothers, children and the poor; and privatizes Social Security, leaving the elderly without a safety net.” And yet, conservative columnist David Brooks says it’s better than the Democratic alternative.
Education and Voting Rights
The NAACP and the National Education Association “are teaming up to register, educate and activate hundreds of thousands of voters ahead of the 2012 elections,” the NAACP announced August 20. “In the last two years, more states have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any time since the rise of Jim Crow,” said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous. “The extremists behind these laws know that the right to vote is the gateway to protecting so many of the other rights we care about, including the right to quality public schools for the next generation.” Will Republicans address these charges?
“The Obama administration’s [brand new] Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals could expand the rights of more than 1 million young illegal immigrants by giving them work permits, though they would not obtain legal residency here or a path to citizenship,” Politico reported. “Republican critics accuse President Barack Obama of drafting the plan to boost his political standing with Latinos ahead of November’s vote and say the program favors illegal immigrants over unemployed American citizens during dismal economic times,” the article said. But do voters care?
Abortion and Same Sex Marriage
“Relatively few black Americans and Hispanic Americans believe that cultural issues such as abortion (17% and 30%) and same-sex marriage (18% and 26%) are critical issues facing the country,” the Public Religion Research Institute reported in July. Does the media make more of culture-war issues than voters do?
“Black Protestants favor stricter gun control even more strongly than Catholics, according to a 2011 ABC News/Washington Post poll, with 71 percent saying they want tougher gun laws,” Religion News Service reported after recent shootings at a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh house of worship in Wisconsin. Will politicians pay attention to everyday urban violence concerns when the news media doesn’t?
What Does It Mean?
The Republicans have their work cut out for them. A Pew Research Center Poll conducted in late July found that only 4 percent of Blacks and 26 percent of Hispanics would have voted for Governor Romney if the election was held on the day the poll was conducted.
What do you think?
What issues to you want to hear the Republicans talk about next week?
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.
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, 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, 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.”
BANDING TOGETHER: More than 40 individuals have worked for Next Step on the Indivisible bracelets assembly contract. Together they produced and shipped more than 1 million bracelets. (Photo: Next Step/Scott Jonkhoff)
Last fall Starbucks announced that it would sell $5 bracelets at every one of its 7,000 stores to boost job creation in the United Sates. Starbucks customers may purchase Indivisible bracelets for $5 at point-of-sale, with the proceeds going to support small business loans in underserved communities across the country through the Opportunity Finance Network. A $5 million grant by the Starbucks Foundation in 2011 seeded the Create Jobs for USA initiative.
The purpose behind the initiative is direct action to meet a need. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told CBS News that “over 13 million Americans [are] unemployed, [including] a large percentage of Hispanics and African Americans, 42 of 50 states are facing budget deficits … and we’re celebrating 8.3% unemployment as a victory. I just can’t allow that … What I’m trying to do is ask the question, ‘How can business, and specifically Starbucks, use its skill for good?’ ”
Last month Starbucks announced additional partners in the cause. Google Offers and Banana Republic have committed to raise a combined $4 million to add to the $7.5 million raised to date, noting that the Create Jobs for USA program to date has helped create and sustain 2,300 jobs.
Another notable partner in this initiative exists down the supply chain. An assembler of the Indivisible bracelets, Next Step of West Michigan, has an impressive track record in connecting employment opportunities to people looking for a chance.
SMALL STEPS: The Indivisible wristbands are available at Starbucks stores.
Next Step got involved in the Create Jobs for USA initiative last fall. At a Wednesday-morning Bible study hosted at the Next Step site on Division Avenue in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Scott Jonkhoff entertained a question. Jonkhoff, founder and executive director of Next Step, was asked by a fellow participant about Next Step’s capacity to create a production space and hire people to assemble the Indivisible bracelet.
That conversation led to a busy October. Conference calls with BDA, a supply vendor for Starbucks, led to a site visit at Next Step. Recommendations from that site visit led to two intense weeks where Jonkhoff’s construction team transformed their dark warehouse into a well-lit and clean assembly and production space. A deal was signed that made Next Step a certified supplier for Starbucks, working under BDA, and 22 men and women were hired. “Product began rolling in every day,” said Jonkhoff. “Every day there was a FedEx Next Day Air shipment to bring us on line.”
To date Next Step has assembled more than 1 million of the Indivisible bracelets. On a visit to the office, I looked over the mounds of bracelets, plastic bags, and description cards that go into a single unit. Months earlier, at a Starbucks in New Jersey, I had purchased a bracelet as a small way to help job creation in the country. It was great to see not only the process, but to meet some of the people behind this effort.
Some of the hires were underemployed or unemployed. Others were in the process of rebuilding their lives after encounters with the justice system or homelessness. All of the employees I met on my visit were cheerful and working together as a team.
GOING ALL IN: Next Step founder Scott Jonkhoff lives out his faith by creating opportunities for others.
That spirit of camaraderie flows from its leader, Jonkhoff. He ran a fastener company for 14 years before selling the company in 2002 and dedicating himself to a missional purpose. A Christian his entire life, Jonkhoff heard a sermon on Matthew 25. “Our loving Lord says what we do unto the least is done to Him, and what we do not do to the least, we did not do to him,” Jonkhoff said. He felt convicted about how the poor and the hurting were just “faceless statistics” to him.
One cold day soon after, Jonkhoff noticed a man pushing a cart on the street. He left his office and gave the man a warm coat. “The look of amazement, gratitude, and hurting in his eyes exposed my cold heart, my judgmental attitude, and my lack of caring in years past,” Jonkhoff recalls. “I returned to my office and prayed for a new heart and the courage to live in a way that’s ‘all in’ for Him.”
After selling his business for a small profit, Jonkhoff began working with Habitat for Humanity to start a ReStore. There he worked with prisoners on deconstruction jobs and learned of the struggles and challenges they had in finding affordable housing and paid employment. They purchased homes, renovated them, and continued hiring men no one else would hire. In 2008 they incorporated Next Step as a 501c3 organization and began taking construction and remodeling contracts with the City of Grand Rapids and other businesses and organizations.
Today, in addition to the contract to assemble the Indivisible bracelet, Next Step is active in a variety of restoration and renovation projects. They are also exploring development of a community garden across the street from its facility that is owned by a local church. The Indivisible contract, however, has been a unique opportunity for more than 40 people who have been employed to date.
“So many are looking for a chance to turn it around,” Jonkhoff toldThe Grand Rapids Press in 2008. “That’s who we want to be there for.”
Remember that the next time you’re ordering coffee at Starbucks and look down to see the Create Jobs for USA Indivisible bracelet.