Side Hustle Safety Net: How Vulnerable Workers Survive Precarious Times

  • 9h 20m 27s
  • Alexandrea J. Ravenelle
  • Recorded Books, Inc.
  • 2023

The first major study of how the pandemic affected gig workers—a sociological exploration that comes across like a novel.

This is the story of what the most vulnerable wage earners—gig workers, restaurant staff, early-career creatives, and minimum-wage laborers—do when the economy suddenly collapses. In Side Hustle Safety Net, Alexandrea J. Ravenelle builds on interviews with nearly two hundred gig-based and precarious workers, conducted during the height of the pandemic, to uncover the unique challenges they faced in unprecedented times.

This book looks at both the officially unemployed and the "forgotten jobless"—a digital-era demographic that turned to side hustles—and reveals how they fared. CARES Act assistance allowed some to change careers, start businesses, perhaps transform their lives. However, gig workers and those involved in "polyemployment" found themselves at the mercy of outdated unemployment systems, vulnerable to scams, and attempting dubious survival strategies. Ultimately, Side Hustle Safety Net argues that the rise of the gig economy, partnered with underemployment and economic instability, has increased worker precarity with disastrous consequences.

About the Author

Alexandrea J. Ravenelle is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on the lived experience of gig economy workers for Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit, and Kitchensurfing and the socioeconomic implications of this new economic movement. Her first book, Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy, was published by the University of California Press in March 2019.

In her research Ravenelle examines the contradictions between the lofty promises of the gig economy and the lived experience of the workers, between tech-driven entrepreneurship and the reality of rolling back generations of workplace protections. Her research utilizes ethnographic interviews with nearly 80 workers to underline the volatility of working in the 21st century gig economy.

For all of its app-enabled modernity, the gig economy resembles an early Industrial Age where workers worked long hours in a piecemeal system, workplace safety was non-existent and there were few options for redress. For all of its focus on emerging technology -- apps, smartphones, contactless payment systems and review systems -- the sharing economy is truly a movement forward to the past. Workers find themselves outside even the most basic workplace protections regarding discrimination and sexual harassment, the right to unionize, and even redress for workplace injuries. The sharing economy is upending generations of workplace protections in the name of disruption, and returning to a time when worker exploitation was the norm.

Ravenelle has a PhD in Sociology from the CUNY Graduate Center and a Bachelor's degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Missouri. Her work has been published in The New York Times, the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society and in the book Digital Sociologies.

In this Audiobook

  • Chapter 1 - “Officially Unemployed” or “Forgotten Jobless”?
  • Chapter 2 - The Side Hustle Safety Net
  • Chapter 3 - Good Jobs, Bad Jobs, Scam Jobs
  • Chapter 4 - Making More and Moving On Up
  • Chapter 5 - Strategies of Survival
  • Chapter 6 - Stuck in Place
  • Chapter 7 - It’s a Beautiful Life
  • Chapter 8 - Learning from Covid