It’s becoming much more difficult for Germaine, 77, to make enough driving for Uber to pay her bills.
A 77-year-old Uber driver said she’s struggling to earn enough to supplement her Social Security.She used to earn between $500 and $600 a week, but that’s been almost cut in half recently. While she values the flexibility, she’s frustrated by the pay and competition.
Germaine, 77, said she’s losing money working as a rideshare driver.
Some weeks, the amount she’s made from rides is less than the cost of gas and car repairs. She wishes she could stop entirely, but she’s semi-retired and needs to work at least part-time to supplement her Social Security benefits.
“I’m very disenchanted with how these rideshare companies are dealing with drivers,” said Germaine, who drives mainly for Uber and asked only to use her middle name for fear of professional repercussions. “We have to pay our insurance, we don’t get health insurance, and the benefits that they offer are really nothing I can use.”
More and more Americans are looking to gig jobs like ridesharing, grocery delivery, and digital freelancing for the freedom of crafting their schedules and working whenever they want. In fact, the number of US gig workers is estimated to have more than doubled during the pandemic. Still, many current gig drivers are looking for more stability, as they’ve noticed growing competition and lower earnings.
Germaine is driving six days a week, for four to six hours a day, in addition to working other part-time jobs including managing her Etsy store and translation services. She typically earns around $300 a week — down from between $500 and $600 a week — from ridesharing, as she tries not to drive over 100 miles a day to prevent further wear and tear on her car, which she owns.
While driving in South Florida gives her more opportunities on rideshare platforms — she’s completed over 7,000 rides for Uber in three years and doesn’t have to work nine-hour days in an office anymore — she’s thinking of calling it quits soon because she’s not earning enough. She’s also noticed increased competition in her area over the last year.
“I’m really about to quit because I can’t go on,” Germaine said. “I can’t pay $5,000 in repairs and then go back to get $2.60 a ride or whatever amount of money to pay that back.”
Settling on gig driving
Germaine worked at a hospitality corporation until 2019 and, after struggling to find another full-time job, became a delivery driver in 2020 for Postmates, which was acquired by Uber. She transitioned to driving for passengers in early 2021, in addition to briefly driving for Lyft and inDrive.
Initially, the job was easy since traffic was light and parking was available, she said. However, after pandemic-induced restrictions eased in 2021, the delivery environment became more competitive. It was harder to get a parking spot in front of a restaurant, partly because more delivery drivers would camp outside waiting for their next order to come in.
Additionally, her pay decreased: Today she earns as little as $2.60 for some trips, but used to make a minimum of $4 or $5 a few years ago. Since she lives in a touristy area, she said some times of the year are more competitive, meaning she can make a lot less some weeks compared to others.
“Gig work is attractive in a way because it gives you the impression that you are your own boss because you can do it whenever you want, but at the end of the day, you’re not getting enough in most cases,” Germaine said.
To be sure, in addition to Social Security benefits, Germaine’s husband works with health insurance and can cover their household expenses.
Trying to make ends meet
Germaine said Uber paid her around $0.55 on each ride as compensation for rising gas costs, though this didn’t make much of a difference to her total earnings. Additionally, while companies like Uber offer her some discounts on gas, they only apply to certain gas stations. She typically fills her tank twice a week and pays between $60 and $80.
“Many people don’t have the option to stop and say ‘no, this doesn’t make any sense, I can’t continue doing this,'” Germaine said. “It’s addictive.”
Because she drives a smaller car, she can only accept UberX rides, which tend to earn less than UberXL or Uber Black rides. On top of that, car repairs have cost her between $7,000 and $10,000 and new tires were $1,000, and most of those expenses aren’t covered by rideshare companies. Accounting for those expenses, she’s barely breaking even.
“The wear and tear of people getting in and out of the car, I’m afraid the door will be broken because not everybody is careful when they get in or out,” Germaine said. “It takes a big toll on your vehicle and that’s my problem to fix.”
Promotions through the apps, such as $95 for completing 60 trips, haven’t incentivized her to continue driving. While she hasn’t been able to stop driving entirely, she acknowledged it’s “too late” for her to go back into the corporate world.
“I would like to have, if I can dream, a source of income, not necessarily millions, but something that would complement my Social Security benefits so that I can live easily without having to worry,” she said.
Are you a rideshare driver who is having a difficult time earning money? Reach out to this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.