Gig workers in San Francisco are mostly people of color and many are immigrants, according to survey

Gig workers have become an essential part of our society during the COVID-19 global health crisis. But even before the pandemic, gig workers had become a staple in the lives of many people who use services like Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash and Postmates. Despite the growing presence of gig workers, little has been known about them -- with the exception that many are independent contractors who receive unpredictable pay and very few benefits. Thanks to a new survey about gig workers in San Francisco, that's starting to change.

Many gig workers, for example, are people of color, according to a study conducted by San Francisco's Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and led by UC Santa Cruz professor Chris Benner. The study, which surveyed 643 gig workers across platforms like DoorDash, Instacart, Shipt and others, also found that many are in financially precarious situations and are struggling to make ends meet.

Here are some stats based on those surveyed:

  • 78% of gig workers are people of color

    • 29% Asian

    • 23% Latinx

    • 22% white

    • 12% black

    • 13% mixed race

  • 56% of gig workers are immigrants

  • 21% of gig workers do not have health insurance

  • 15% of gig workers need some sort of public assistance, like food stamps or housing vouchers

  • 71% of gig workers work more than 30 hours a week

  • Before expenses, ride-hailing drivers earn $900 per week on average; food and grocery delivery workers earn an average of $500 per week

  • For delivery workers, tips account for 30% of their estimated earnings

This survey comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a brighter spotlight on this essential workforce and the basic protections they often lack.

“This is a very critical workforce for a number of reasons,” Benner previously told TechCrunch. “They are particularly vulnerable and susceptible, especially early on with drivers taking people to and from the airport. But now as we’re potentially seeing a spike in the online ordering of groceries and food delivery, these people doing the deliveries are providing essential services during this time of having to shelter in home and are potentially vulnerable. And if they’re not being careful in handling food and groceries, they could potentially be spreading [COVID-19].”

Now that these results are out, the survey will help the city to shape policy as it relates to gig workers. What's become clear is that gig workers need better economic security, unemployment benefits and access to good healthcare.

Some progress is being made in this area, but not quickly enough. The progress also tends to come with pushback from tech companies. As California gig worker protections bill AB 5 was becoming law, for example, Uber, Instacart and Lyft put millions of dollars behind a ballot initiative that would enable them to continue classifying workers as independent contractors. And while gig workers are eligible for unemployment benefits, many are struggling to get that relief.

To better support gig workers, crucial reforms need to happen, Shahid Buttar, an activist and attorney who is running for Congress against Nancy Pelosi, told TechCrunch.

"A crucial reform that I think meets the needs of gig workers and working-class Americans, generally, is creating a national health plan -- Medicare for all -- establishing a right to healthcare without being contingent on people needing to pay for insurance or deductibles or their co-pays on the private market," he said. "That will not only ensure that gig workers have access to care but if you think particularly about gig workers in the time of the pandemic, especially through the lens of undiagnosed potential transmitters, they are people who need care and they need equipment. So the personal protective equipment for gig workers is important and crucial, not just for their rights and workplace safety, but for public health as well."

Be sure to check out the executive summary here and the full results here.