Surviving the growing gig economy

By Austin Fast, Arizona State University

It’s no news that young journalists can find it tough to land that first job. At the Online News Association’s annual conference held in New Orleans this September, I met a millennial who’d completed 13 internships and said potential employers still told her she “didn’t have enough experience” for entry-level positions. Let’s hope that’s an extreme case, but it illustrates the Catch-22 many journalists encounter when starting out in their careers.

Finding work in the “gig economy” can be one stopgap to help make ends meet while searching for that first job or waiting for the next step along your career path. I found myself in that position in fall 2018 after rounds of layoffs left me with a severance deal from a medium-market television station. Just because your employment situation has changed, that unfortunately does not mean rent, car payments or medical bills can be put on hold.

Earlier in the year I’d signed up with Upshift, a local startup in Ohio that connects companies that need temporary workers with people who are looking for shifts. At first, it was just a way to supplement my income from the TV station, but it became a lifesaver when those layoffs hit. The Upshift app’s concept is simple: You can sort work options by amount paid per hour, shift location, duration or company rating to pick shifts that fit with your schedule. Apply for the shift, and you’ll get a notification once a company has approved or denied your request. Show up on time, do a good job, and you’ll get paid every Friday for the previous week’s shifts.

I’m not going to lie – working for Upshift was not glamorous. I was serving meals and waiting tables at banquet centers, folding sheets and towels for hotels and packing boxes at local distribution centers. Wages ranged from $10 to $20 per hour, mostly falling on the lower end of that spectrum. Some of the shifts were long drives from home, and my social calendar took a serious hit since banquet servers work mostly nights and weekends by default.

Despite those drawbacks, I’m incredibly thankful Upshift and similar gig economy options exist across the country. I could have chosen to find full-time work as a bartender or server, but Upshift provided a far greater amount of flexibility to create my own schedule that fit around the interviews I was landing as I went through several months of applying for new journalism jobs. Plus, even though I was working at several different companies throughout the course of each week, Upshift handled all the salary and taxation details. That meant I only had one extra W-9 to worry about at tax time that covered all those various work locations.

The final lesson I’d like to impart readers with is this: Tip your wait staff. I left my Upshift experience convinced that every American should work in the service industry at some point in their life to gain an appreciation for the long hours, grueling physical demands and extreme patience required to fulfill every whim of diners and bar patrons. The least you could do is slide an extra buck or two their way at the end of your Friday night to show your gratitude.

Austin Fast is a student at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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