The Pandemic Hardships of N.Y.C.’s Gig Workers

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It’s Friday.

Weather: Mostly sunny, with the chance of a late storm. High in the low 90s, but it could seem like it’s up to 105. Expect a stormy Saturday; high in the mid-80s. More of the same Sunday, but cooler.

Alternate-side parking: In effect until Monday (Eid al-Adha).

Pedro Acosta “begged for food” at a food pantry near his home in Brooklyn last year, for the first time in his working life.

He has long driven for Uber. But Mr. Acosta, 53, stopped working for two months after contracting the coronavirus and developing breathing problems, leaving his family with financial challenges.

For many New Yorkers, some services became more essential during the height of the pandemic: Package deliveries ramped up, and ride-share apps were used in favor of public transit out of fear of the virus. Many ordered meals to their apartment buildings more often to avoid leaving their homes.

But many of the gig workers behind these services, like Mr. Acosta, a married father of six, have been significantly more likely than regular employees to have suffered health and financial issues during the pandemic.

[Read more about the challenges facing gig workers and the efforts to address them.]

Here’s what to know:

As New Yorkers lost jobs in restaurants, stores and construction to the pandemic, some turned to gig work for money. Many who work for app-based services like UberEats, DoorDash and Lyft earn less than half of the city’s minimum wage — $15 an hour — and cannot pay rent or other expenses, according to surveys of workers.

A large share are immigrants, many of them undocumented, who feel they have few other options, the surveys show. As the pandemic set in, gig workers reported facing several hardships, including food and housing insecurity, at higher rates than regular employees.

A spokeswoman for DoorDash called the survey findings “flawed and misleading,” and added that “nationally, Dashers earn over $25 per hour they’re delivering and $33 per hour in Manhattan.”

Working conditions at app-based services have been the subject of debate in New York and across the country.

A set of bills pending in the City Council would offer several protections to delivery workers, including a minimum wage and faster payment from the apps, my colleague Patrick McGeehan reported.

Some efforts in New York and elsewhere to try to force app-based companies to classify their drivers as employees, qualifying them for all the benefits regular employees receive, like paid sick leave.

But some gig workers are not sure that their situation would improve if they were reclassified as employees, with bosses setting their schedules. “I love being an independent contractor and I will fight for it,” Mr. Acosta told Mr. McGeehan.

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Want more news? Check out our full coverage.

The Mini Crossword: Here is today’s puzzle.

City officials are investing millions in boosting social clubs for people with mental health problems. Here’s a look at how one works. [Gothamist]

The four top Democratic candidates for mayor used different strategies for campaign stops across the city. See how their efforts paid off. [The City]

What we’re watching: The Times’s contributing writers Eleanor Randolph and Clyde Haberman discuss big takeaways from the mayoral primary on “The New York Times Close Up With Sam Roberts.” The show airs on Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. [CUNY TV]

The Times’s Melissa Guerrero writes:

While people are still connecting through virtual events and programs, with the summer season here and more people getting vaccinated, venues and organizations are holding in-person events. Here are suggestions for maintaining a New York social life this weekend:

On Friday at 8:30 p.m., watch a screening of the animated film “Interstella 5555, The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem” at Washington Square Park in Manhattan as part of the Films on the Green festival.

For more information, visit the event page.

Join the poet and professor Paul con Queso for a poetry workshop exploring the body through sensory poetry-writing exercises on Saturday at 1 p.m.

R.S.V.P. for free on the event page.

On Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Brooklyn Museum’s plaza, watch a free performance by the string players from the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra.

Visit the event page for more info.

It’s Friday — reconnect with someone.

Dear Diary:

I was walking to the East Village from my apartment in the West Village. I had $10 to my name and was hungry for Indian food.

Just past Washington Square Park, I came across a guy who was sitting on the curb with a guitar. He had a hat turned upside down with a few coins in it. He was between songs and had on a faded gray T-shirt that said “The Clash” in letters that were barely legible.

On a whim, I sang (badly) Mick Jones’s first lines of “Something About England” from “Sandinista.”

“They say the immigrants steal the hubcaps of respected gentlemen. They say it would be wine and roses, if England were for Englishmen again.”

He looked up, and sang a couple of Joe Strummer’s lines from later in the song: “I missed the fourteen-eighteen war, but not the sorrow afterwards. With my father dead, my mother ran off, my brothers took the pay of hoods.”

People passed by. He kept singing, getting the lyrics mixed up as he went, but squeezing them all in anyway. (That’s OK, I thought. Strummer did that too.)

When he’d finished singing, he strummed his muted strings, waiting for me to jump back in.

I sang Jones’s last lines.

He looked up and gave me a nod.

“Nice job, Mick,” he said.

“You, too, Joe,” I said, bending down to put the $10 I had planned to spend on Indian food in his hat before continuing on my way.

— Doug Sylver

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Read more Metropolitan Diary here.

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