The official news bulletins on the economy are positive. Officially, unemployment is at 3.8 percent, a low not seen in two decades. The big picture looks great as companies are making record profits and consumers are spending again. But for some people, a 9 to 5 job is still a dream. Many have become too dejected to continue looking. Others are earning a few dollars here and there whenever possible.
Close to 80 million Americans are scrambling to survive in our booming economy. According to the Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking, 31 percent of adults have become a part of the “gig economy,” working a few hours each month and hustling for whatever work can be had. This includes picking up extra cash babysitting or pet sitting, selling products online, or offering other services. Lyft and Uber drivers earn $11.77 per hour after overhead and taxes. Many work less than 20 hours each week. The online site TaskRabbit offers local handyman, shopping, or other needed services on a demand basis.
The gig economy is a daily struggle and hardly meant to provide comfort and riches. For those unable to pay the rent with low-paying full-time jobs, additional sideline gigs provide a few extras. Three-quarters of gig workers add 10 percent or less to their household’s income, but they still need the additional money to meet expenses.
Gig work provides flexibility. You work when you want to – assuming the work is there. Most workers work predictable and preset hours, but 16 percent of workers work irregular schedules which depend on need, especially those in the food, retail, and entertainment industries. Many of these jobs are part-time, and the hours can be erratic. These jobs are usually held by vulnerable workers with a high school diploma. Some of these workers get a day or so notice, others are on call, tied to the phone without any idea of when they will work next. Predictably, these jobs have a high rate of turnover.
This may work for people who aren’t worried about paying the rent and bringing food to the table. For others, it can turn into a financial struggle just to survive day by day. These workers would love a job with regular income, predictable hours, and a few benefits. To make that happen, the economy would have to become even better than it already is. Three point eight percent unemployment is only a number to some people.
Some millennials who grew up during and after the 2008 economic crisis seem to have heeded its lesson. One in six of these young people have accumulated more than $100,000 in savings as a hedge against future economic chaos. They are smart to do so, especially at a time many Americans are unable to handle an unexpected expense of $1,000.
Conversely, the majority of 18 to 24-year-olds have less than $1,000 in savings, or none at all. In 2016, 31 percent of young millennials had absolutely no savings. In 2017, that number has increased to 46 percent.
Among older millennials, in the 25 to 34 age group, only 61 percent had $1,000 in savings, while 41 percent had no safety cushion at all.
With wages remaining stagnant and many facing college loans, mortgages, and car payments, even those making a good salary can have trouble making ends meet. Incredibly, many families have no retirement savings. While half of families have some savings, the other half have none. Some of those without savings may simply not be earning enough and spending half their salary on rent, while others have become accustomed to $5.00 coffee, Uber rides instead of the bus, and fashionably decorated condos instead of rentals. Not savings can be a sign of desperation or a simple lifestyle choice.