A Simple Solution to Help Millions of Independent Workers Like Me

By Eli Hirsche

For a lot of people, app-based platforms are a convenient way to get around town, order takeout, or skip the line at the grocery store. But for the drivers, couriers, and shoppers that make it possible, working in the on-demand economy means so much more. 

For some, it’s a way to earn extra income and make ends meet; for others, it’s a livelihood. Independent workers are a growing piece of our changing economy, yet unfortunately, outdated laws are holding many workers back.

This issue is personal to me, because I’m a gig worker myself. Like so many people, the COVID-19 economic shutdowns put me in a tough spot, so I started delivering for Doordash as a way to get through it and make ends meet.

What started as a last ditch effort to stay afloat quickly became my new passion. I love that I don’t have to sit at a desk and stare at wallpaper for 40 hours a week; instead, I can explore my hometown, help feed my community, and make a living on my own schedule.

I’m not alone. In America today, 57 million people – about a third of the workforce – choose independent work. According to one survey, 86% of app-based drivers cited flexibility as a top reason for driving.

Though independent work is a significant part of the workforce of today and the future, the laws that determine how workers get important benefits, like healthcare and retirement, are relics of the past.

That’s because our social safety net reinforces the employer-provided benefits system. For instance, about half of all Americans get their healthcare from their full time employer. However, gig workers who are legally considered self-employed often can’t personally afford the exorbitant costs of benefits. 

Steps like the Affordable Care Act have helped fill in the gap, but a lot of independent workers still don’t have access to all the important benefits they need to earn a stable living because policymakers haven’t kept up with the rapidly changing economy

A portable benefits system will help.

A portable benefits system would allow independent contractors to have access to the same benefits as full time workers without having to give up their flexibility. That’s because the benefit plan would stay with the worker even if they changed tasks or shifted work to another platform – hence “portable.”

The way it works is simple: the worker would pay a certain amount into the program, and whichever platform they earn on would also pay into it. For instance, if I were to use a portable benefits plan in my current situation, Doordash would pay into it; if I switched over to Uber Eats, they would pay into the exact same plan as well.  

Some states have already implemented smaller-scale versions of portable benefits. In January, Washington State launched a portable benefits program for medical and family leave, giving countless independent workers the ability to take care of their health and spend important time with their newborn children.

Independent work is here to stay, and our policymakers must update our laws to adapt. We need to create a portable benefits system that covers major benefits for all workers who need them. That way, independent workers like me won’t have to choose between jobs and a flexible schedule we love and the lifesaving benefits we need.

Eli Hirsche is a worker in the gig-economy and Mesa voter

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