Chicago freelancers worry about income, health care as gig economy booms nationally

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As Americans increasingly choose to work in the gig economy for the flexibility it provides, freelancers in Chicago voiced concerns about income stability and the access to health care.

Ride-sharing, a big part of the gig economy, has an unstable earning outlook, said Eli Martin, an Uber and Lyft driver. The average ride-sharing driver only makes minimum wage after expenses, Martin said.

“It’s more than just the gas you spend,” Martin said, referring to the expenses out of drivers’ own pockets. “That’s also the insurance, the maintenance, and the depreciation.”

Martin’s group, Chicago Rideshare Advocates, organized multiple rallies in the city advocating stable income for drivers, many of whom have seen significant pay cuts since ride-sharing companies began boosting profits prior to IPOs, he said.

Income instability is a common issue among freelancers, a group that has reached 56.7 million people nationally, more than a third of the entire labor force in America this year, according to a recent study commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union.

Payment is an even bigger issue for creative gig workers, said Alex Ragir, co-founder of Storyhunter, a freelancer management system.

“When you are freelancing for these huge corporations with huge bureaucracies, it’s very difficult to get set up,” Ragir said. “And after you do the work, it could take months to track down the person who’s going to pay you.”

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, a freelance photographer and writer in Chicago, said the struggle with financial unpredictability happens “literally everyday” for herself and fellow freelancers.

 “It can feel really lonely when you’re a freelancer trying to figure out how money and the world works on your own,” Steinkopf-Frank said.

The challenge is not limited to income. Freelancers also lack access to the basic benefits of traditional employees, such as company-sponsored health insurance.

Both Steinkopf-Frank and Martin rely on the Affordable Care Act for health insurance. host in Douglas Park, said her health insurance costs $700 per month, which is “ridiculously expensive.”

Despite the challenges, workers are still pouring into the gig economy, mainly for the flexibility it offers. Ben Derico, a 28-year-old freelance videographer, said he enjoys the freedom to make his own schedule and do the things he actually has a passion for.

“I just really didn’t like sitting in an office all day, even if I had nothing to do,” Derico said.

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