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The Gig Economy Is a Racial Justice Issue Too

By Tori Fleming, Jun 01, 2021

Gig Economy Data Story

Over the last few years, popular platform gig economy companies like Uber and Lyft have come under pressure for their poor treatment of workers.

Recently, however, these companies have also come under scrutiny for their disproportionate mistreatment of Black and Brown people. This mistreatment includes their drivers, who are mostly Black and Brown people, as well as their riders.

Let’s take a look at the numbers that back up this claim.

 

78% of delivery workers & rideshare drivers are non-white

In 2015, Uber commissioned a report that found that 63% of their drivers are non-white. 18% of their drivers were Black, 15% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 16% Hispanic or Latinx.

Gig Economy Data Story

A UC Santa Cruz study done in San Francisco found that 78% of delivery workers or rideshare drivers are non-white.

These findings show that Black and Brown people have been cut off from more stable employment, leaving gig work as one of their only paths for earning a living.

In fact, there is an ongoing lawsuit against Lyft by the ACLU and National Employment Project in the United States specifically about how gig economy business models “deepen the desperation of workers who have been excluded from stable employment.”

 

Uber and Lyft demand as much as 20% from each ride

According to the UC Santa Cruz study, more than half of delivery or rideshare drivers work over 40 hours a week. 71% of drivers work at least 30 hours a week.

Gig Economy Data Story

Despite working full-time hours, approximately 20% of app workers earn zero dollars after expenses. The study also found that 15% of drivers rely on public assistance in order to live.

Gig Economy Data Story

Activists have begun referring to Lyft and Uber’s employment policies as “exploitation through innovation.” Rather than working “flexible” hours as gig economy companies like Uber and Lyft suggest, most drivers are working full time jobs while earning poverty wages.

Gig Economy Data Story

 

Uber and Lyft’s pricing algorithms charge more in non-white areas

On top of Uber and Lyft exploiting mostly Black, Brown and other marginalized groups as app and rideshare drivers, studies have revealed the racial biases embedded in their algorithms too.

A study done using transport and census data in Chicago found that ride-hailing companies charge a higher price per mile for a trip if the pick-up location is in a majority ethnic neighbourhood than white neighbourhoods.

As Noel Sharkey from the University of Sheffield in the Uk remarks, “this study shows how algorithmic bias by postcode and race can creep into even the most unexpected places.”

With the Black Lives Matter movement capturing global attention over the last year, it’s time we start thinking about the role gig economy companies like Uber and Lyft play in maintaining and upholding racist structures and attitudes.

 

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