Uber Drivers and Other Gig Workers Struggle for Unemployment Insurance

May 20, 2020

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, demand for rides has fallen so much that on many days drivers can’t get enough business to make it worth getting in the car.

Millions of people who make a living from gig work — like driving for Uber or renting rooms on Airbnb — now have a lifeline. They are temporarily eligible for unemployment benefits, thanks to the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, which became law in March.

Lyft and Uber don’t consider themselves to be employers of drivers. The companies say their millions of drivers are independent contractors who choose when and how much to work.

Gig workers have to show proof of their earnings, so the state knows how much to give them in unemployment benefits. In turn, states have to set up systems to process those claims — which Jay Shambaugh, director of the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project describes as “the big holdup."

That wait has dire consequences for people whose lives are already precarious. In Decatur, Ga., attorney Mary Irene Dickerson of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society has seen an uptick in calls about eviction notices. 

“Then it turns out that the problem is that they’ve been waiting for their unemployment claims to be determined — waiting weeks,” she said.

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