Safety Nets For Safety Nets
All gig workers are musicians now—navigating extensive freedom and limited benefits. So what happens to musicians whose backup plan is driving for Lyft?
Liz Hopkins is best known as one of the lead singers in Delta Rae, a bluesy folk-rock outfit known for hits like spooky anthem “Bottom of the River.” But even when she would take a break from touring, she’d often find herself on the road.
Like many in the vast middle class of musicians, Hopkins dabbled in driving for Lyft and running food for Postmates. Sometimes it was fun: patrons would ask her what she did for a living—rightly assuming she hadn’t made a career out of the gig economy—and she’d tell them. Maybe she’d get Delta Rae a couple new fans. Other times, it would be a less enjoyable.
“Driving to Chick-Fil-A to pick up somebody’s spicy chicken sandwich and Diet Coke order,” she explains, “is like, ‘Oh, this is what I’m doing tonight. My night off from being a musician is dropping a chicken sandwich off for you while you’re working at the window at this … burlesque club.’”
Hopkins’ experience raises a critical question. When I say we are all musicians now, I mean our workaday lives resemble those of the musicians—the possibilities of success, the ubiquity of failure, and the dog-eat-dog road in between.
So if we are all musicians now, what happens when a musician needs a fallback plan?
“For people who are working in the gig economy … there should be more healthcare options,” says Hopkins, before laying out an all-too-common dilemma. “Maybe it looks like I don’t work 40 hours a week. But I’m working 20 hours a week at a music school, and then I’m working 10 hours a week driving for Lyft, and then I’m also working 20 hours a week as a substitute teacher.”
Those 50 hours a week don’t come with healthcare, or a company car, or an expense account for gas, not to mention a pension or paid family leave. Indeed, the situation is quite a lot like being a musician, but without the fan club.
Hopkins is among the fortunate few who does have a fan club: Delta Rae’s Behind the Door subscription community serves as something of a safety net for the band’s six members. That enables Hopkins to limit her gig work these days to serving as a performance instructor at a School of Rock in North Carolina, mostly to build her rainy-day fund.
Since our working lives are resembling musicians more and more by the day, it would behoove policymakers to take a look at the financial realities of musicians, as I noted in last week’s edition.
Workers across the gig economy would, of course, benefit from having some sort of financial safety net like Delta Rae’s. In fact, I’d argue it’s a necessity to support the economy we’re building in the 21st Century.
Hopkins’s basic income—exceedingly non-universal though it is—has allowed her to stop driving for Lyft, which often made her nervous as a woman driving strangers around late at night. Instead, she can focus on gig work that plays to her creative strengths.
“The whole sitting at a desk answering phones [thing], I’ve done it,” she says. “No disrespect to anyone who’s doing it. I just start to feel so restless. I’m used to being a touring musician, moving around and dancing and singing and getting to people. I need a certain level of human interaction.”
Here’s hoping our leaders will somehow find a way to make our economy encourage everyone to play to their strengths—whether they’re actual musicians, or just the rest of us who are all musicians now.